John Oliver on Journalism

Back on July 14th I wrote a blog post about my frustrations with the state of the newspaper industry and how the term “generating copy” had replaced writing. Since then John Oliver on Last Week Tonight released this video on the state of journalism which echoed a lot of the same frustrations.

Of course, Last Week Tonight did it bigger and louder and with more jokes, but the video lays out the sad truth of the industry.

 

Houdini & Doyle

Houdini & Doyle

I know. I know.

My blog posts have been spottier than a leopard. They have been as infrequent as a UFO sighting.

Well, there are reasons for that. Some are good. Some, not so good. As I have said before I share a body with an artists named M. D. Jackson who has been too busy doing “art” stuff and has had little to no time for writing.

The “art stuff” came to an end, though and I found myself a little burnt out. So I took to binge watching some television series. I wanted to write about them each individually, but I found I’d lost my blog writin’ mojo. Nevertheless, I’m trying to stage a comeback so… here goes:

HOUDINI & DOYLE

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This series is a British, Canadian, American co-production. The premise revolves around the friendship that existed between Harry Houdini, the famous escape artists and spritualist debunker, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writer, creator of Sherlock Holmes and famous champion of spiritualism.

doylehoudiniThis is historically true. Doyle and Houdini were friends until they had a falling out in the early 1920’s over Doyle’s belief in the supernatural. This tension between the two famous friends forms the basis for the series.

Houdini is the skeptic. Doyle the believer. Set in 1901 the series is like a turn-of-the-century X-files, or, a more apt comparison would be a turn-of-the-century Scooby Doo as pretty much all of the mysteries presented in the episodes turn out to have prosaic solutions despite their supernatural trappings.

Houdini is played by American actor Michael Weston, while Doyle is played by British Actor Stephen Mangan (who played the role of Dirk Gently in the short lived BBC adaptation of the Douglas Adams novel). Mangan plays Doyle without any trace of a Scottish accent, though, which seemed off to me, but no more odd then Weston’s Brooklyn accent for Houdini.

Houdini and Doyle are joined in their investigations by Adelaide Stratton (played by Canadian actress Rebecca Liddiard), the very first female constable on the London Police force. She is assigned to both the famous men as a way of getting the meddling duo (and the troublesome female police officer) out of the Chief Constable’s hair.

Although the episodes cover fairly familiar territory (Supernatural seeming mystery investigated and revealed to be merely ingenious criminal activity — shades of Scooby Doo –) it is the contentious relationship between skeptic Houdini and believer Doyle that drives much of the action of the story. As the series progress we learn more about Houdini’s relationship with his mother, Doyle’s homelife raising two children while his wife lies in hospital in a coma and his disappointment over the lack of enthusiasm over his just released book about the Boer War (Not surprisingly, his readers only want to talk about Sherlock Holmes).

This is probably the best reason to watch the series. The mysteries themselves range from fairly interesting to somewhat turgid, but discovering more about Doyle’s life and about Houdini’s past and the revelations of the mysterious past of their companion, Adelaide Stratton, make this series compelling.

The entire first season is still available on demand through various services (and, obviously, through certain less than legal backchannels — not that I am advocating internet piracy, understand?) and at only 10 episodes it is certainly worth a look.

Sadly, it seems as though the first season is all that we’re gonna get of this series as Fox, the American network that carried it, has opted not to renew it for another season. The question is up in the air now whether Britain and Canada will continue to produce the series on their own. Still, as I said, season one is worth a look even if there is to be no more Houdini and Doyle.

 

 

SDCC: a rant about ungrateful fanboys (slightly NSFW)

sdcc_logo_grande_4542ff10-4626-4dce-91e0-f0e916457862_largeI’m at that point.

You know the one, especially if you’re a parent and you’ve been listening to the kids whine about how unfair everything is and how their life sucks. You get to that point and suddenly the Dad comes out in you and you lecture your kids about how good they have it compared to when you were a kid.

You try to resist, because you know that it never really makes a difference and your kids will just stare at you like some alien that has just walked into the house speaking Klingon.

But I’m there now.

This past week I’ve been watching all this incredible stuff coming out of the San Diego Comic Con, arguably the biggest and the best convention for fans of comics, science fiction and other genre movies. As is usual during Comic Con I’ve also been listening to the whiny-ass fanboys complaining about how nothing is exactly how they want it. How (insert adaptation of your favorite comic/SF novel/sequel/spin-off/whatever) had better not suck or how the (Insert Comic book company name here – which one doesn’t matter) cinematic universe has lost it and has to be rebooted post haste.

To all you fanboys: STFU.

No… better yet, I’m not talking to you in textspeak anymore… I’m Dad now and I’m talking like a dad. Fanboys, shut the fuck up!

You’re getting so much amazing stuff and all you do is whine and complain. It’s like getting a huge fucking haul at Christmastime and complaining because the phone I got you wasn’t the exact brand you wanted.

Oh, boo-hoo.

You know what I had at your age? I had Star Trek re-runs. Heavily edited on old and dirty and badly spliced film reels. We didn’t have the restored versions with new and shiny cgi effects.

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We didn’t have a blockbuster movie to watch and a new series to look forward to.

7a28a7f7959c09777e756b71a5b23083d6e2fe8c4de98bfa0713da1e513234a4We didn’t have a DOCTOR STRANGE movie with A-list actors and top notch visual effects to look forward to. We had a TV movie done on cheap sets and starring Peter Hooten with a 70’s porn ‘stache.

We didn’t have Justice League starring an OSCAR WINNING ACTOR, we had… never mind. You don’t want to know what we had. 90 minutes of our life we’ll never get back, that’s what we had.

hqdefaultYou fanboys (and I don’t care how young or old you are) are fucking ungrateful. You’ve got it made, kids! You’ve got it made in the shade and you don’t know just how good you have it. Yet you whine and you complain like none of this amazing stuff is good enough for the likes of you.

Now, I hear you say; “Yeah, Jack, but, cut us some slack! These aren’t gifts. It’s not Christmas. It’s a business transaction. The studios make a product and they sell it to consumers, and consumers have a right to criticize the products they’re being given. If I go into a restaurant, order a burger, and find it’s undercooked, do I not have the right to call attention that?”

Well, yes, you’re right. It’s not Christmas, and these aren’t gifts given to you by loving parents. the Christmas analogy was just meant to illustrate how I feel about the situation.

These films, TV series, comics, what have you, they’re product. And absolutely, you have the right to complain about an undercooked burger.

But telling the waiter  “This burger better be good or I’m never coming here again!” before it’s even on the plate or telling the chef that his meals suck based on a picture you saw on the restaurant’s website strikes me as a bit entitled, not to mention that it makes the one complaining look like a dick.

Look, if you watch something and you don’t like it, I’ll accept that. We may even talk about it. I frequently do with fellow fans. But I reserve judgement about something until I have seen the movie/series/comic/whatever rather than moaning about it beforehand.

Saying “I hope it’s great.” is better than saying “Oh, man this is gonna blow” in my opinion. And, yes. I’m not just talking about younger fans. I’m not trying to pull some ageist crap here. There are fans older than me who are just as bad and there are younger fans who have a fantastic attitude.

As a creator it just guts me to hear fans talking shit about something sight unseen. As an artist and a writer… see, this is where my frustration is coming from. I know what it’s like to put so much of myself into something, a book or a piece of artwork, only to have someone who doesn’t know, hasn’t seen/and/or read the work dismiss it out of hand.

I’m sorry, for having to go all “Dad” over it like this, but I’m at that point. I’m all out of fucks. I’m out of them. You like something? I don’t give a fuck. You don’t like something? I don’t give a fuck.

I’m. all. out. of. fucks.

Generating Copy

 

generating copy

I work at a newspaper. I do graphics and occasionally write advertising copy, but I work alongside the reporters. There have been directives that come down from the head office of the chain’s digital department. The directives never talk about writing or reporting. They talk about “generating copy”.

Personally I can’t think of a more insulting term than “generating copy”. That cold, clinical phrase completely guts what it is that reporters actually do. It eviscerates the process of writing in any form. The process of creating, of digging into your soul for a few measly crumbs of insight and then weaving that insight, feeling, or even just information into words — the right words — that create a cohesive passage that speaks to the reader in ways that not only make sense and impart information but touches something inside of them…

To label that as merely “generating copy” is the act of a soulless cretin. It’s a phrase that comes from someone who has never seen anything of the wonder or the beauty of the world. It is a phrase uttered by a lifeless, heartless, soulless zombie stuffed into a suit. It is the most insulting kind of corporatespeak and the more I think about it the angrier I become.

The problem is, I have been listening to these bums. They talk about how anyone who wants to get “traction” out of their blogs have to follow the steps on the ladder to increase traffic to your site and post pieces that generate “swagger”.

I’ve been listening to them, trying to do just that because I think that I need to chase some mythical ideal audience in order to “move more units” (i.e: sell books)

I am unable to do that and up until now it’s been getting me down. It wasn’t until I thought about the phrase “generating copy” that I realized what a load of cow dung it all is.

I’m a writer. I write because I am compelled to order my chaotic thoughts, to try to make sense of the jumble of random noise that fires off inside my head. I am moved to give voice in some way to the painful yearning that occasionally grips my soul. I am compelled to reach out to try to communicate my inner turmoil to somebody… anybody… or maybe just out into the void. It doesn’t matter.

I write because I have to. I write because I have no other way to say what it is I need to say. I’m not trying to drive traffic or create “swagger” and I am not just “generating copy”

This is me. This is my mind and my spirit running free and playing, leaving footprints in the sand in the form of these words. The cold and unemotional format of electronic words on an LCD field of blue-white is all that is afforded to me, but while I can I will try to breathe a bit of life into it now and then.

Anything else is just generating copy.

Morning After Graduation

(an attempt at poetry)

morningafter

The revels are now ended

The careful coiffe of the night before has unraveled

and is soaked with old and dirt and sweat that smells like stale beer.

The pretty dress that fit so well last night

is tainted with pit stains and feels like the uncomfortable

loose skin of an overripe fruit.

Your shoes are nowhere to be found.

They’d be uncomfortable anyway,

so you trot off home in a pair of flip-flops.

 

(apropos of nothing. I have nothing to do with this year’s graduation. My children all graduated years ago. Just a fragment that popped into my head as I drove home from the store today)

Batman V Superman: Good. Bad. I’m the one with the Kryptonite.

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I know this isn’t the real Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill… they’re just plastic figures… but they look so much more life-like, don’t you think?

I recently saw Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Hoo, boy.

So, I’m late to this party. So late, in fact that I’m probably standing in an empty space amongst sad, withered party decorations on a floor covered in confetti. The last peal of revelry and laughter long since echoed away.

And there’s not much left to say that hasn’t already been said.

It’s a movie about good guys and bad guys made by filmmakers who don’t know the difference between the two.

Most of the criticism was focused on Superman. As depicted here, he really wasn’t Superman. Not the real Superman.

My beef, though, is this: Clark Kent. He wasn’t Clark Kent.

You see, Clark Kent was Smalville born and raised. I’m sure that Smallville would have instilled in him a work ethic that would make a Protestent proud. To me, Clark Kent always struck me as a hard worker, a real nose-to-the-grindstone kind of guy. When Perry White aske him to cover sports, Kent would provide copy. When he was asked to cover the party at Lexcorp, he would have provided copy. Kent would have knuckled down and wrote copy.

I work at a newspaper. I’m not a reporter, but I work with reporters and the one thing that reporters have to do… have to do… is write copy. Otherwise they’re not reporters. A reporter who doen’t produce printable copy is a poseur.

So when Perry White complains to Kent that there is no copy for sports or the social pages, I call bullshit.

After all, Clark Kent is Superman. He would have produced the copy. He wouldn’t have gone off on his own, selfishly pursuing his own agenda on company time and the Daily Planet’s dime. That’s not Clark Kent.

Kent maybe isn’t a prize winning journalist. He lets Lois win all the prizes. And Lois gets away with selfish behavior because she’s Lois Lane.

Clark is the guy who turns up his sleeves and provides solid copy. He provides exactly what is required and maybe a little more. He wouldn’t let his duties as a surperhero get in the way of that.

And he would show up to work and not mope around because a lot of people got blown up because he didn’t see the bomb.

Even if he didn’t see the bomb hidden in the wheelchair, he should have done something instead of standing there and blubbering while the capitol building burned around him. He could have sucked up the explosion with his super breath, or spun a whilwind to drag the fiery explosion up and out of the building. Even if he didn’t see the bomb, he could have saved someone.

Anyone.

In fact… he’s Superman. He should have seen the bomb. Superman would have seen the bomb.

I expect Bruce Wayne to be morose and mopey. Even this Bruce Wayne, who, honestly is batshit crazy and suffering from really fucked up dreams and who needs to see a therapist real bad. His dreams are like little fantasy sequences that kind of remind me of another film that had nightmarish dream sequences – Sucker Punch. Weird, huh?

So, Superman who lets his temper get away from him, who sulks and broods like an angsty teen… no. I don’t buy that.

But I really don’t buy a Clark Kent who doesn’t put in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay and who doesn’t write the copy that he’s asked to. That ain’t Clark Kent.

It just ain’t.

Who is DOC SAVAGE?

MDJackson_DocSavageHeader

This post originally appeared at the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website, written under my pen name MD Jackson (The name I use when I write about art and other namby-pamby subjects, unlike the real manly-man topics I write about as Jack Mackenzie).

And it doesn’t get more manly that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Doc Savage!

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You may have heard the news this week that actor Dwayne Johnson (formerly the professional wrestler known as “The Rock”) has been cast as Doc Savage in an upcoming film by Shane Black.

For some of you this will be meaningless. For me this is a big deal and I can’t tell if this news is good or bad but the whole thing fills me with a sense of dread and anxiety.

First off: Who is Doc Savage?

Doc-Savage-March-1933Doc Savage was created by by publisher Henry W. Ralston and editor John L. Nanovic at Street & Smith Publications. His creation was an attempt to capitalize on the success of Street & Smith’s The Shadow Magazine. Additional material was contributed by the series’ main writer, Lester Dent. In contrast to The Shadow‘s mysterious and mystic qualities, Doc Savage was conceived as a scientific super adventurer.

Clark Savage, Jr., first appeared in March 1933 in the first issue of Doc Savage Magazine. Clark Savage (or “Doc” to his friends), had no special powers, but was raised from birth by his father and other scientists to become one of the most perfect human beings in terms of strength, intelligence, and physical abilities.

804949Doc Savage set up base on the 86th floor of a world famous New York skyscraper (implied, but never outright stated, as the Empire State Building). Doc Savage fights against evil with the assistance of his five companions, Monk, Ham, Renny, Johnny and Long Tom.

The Doc Savage adventure magazine debuted on newsstands in March of 1983. Although most of the adventures were written by Lester Dent, each adventure was attributed to Kenneth Robson, a Street and Smith house name. Street and Smith would go on to publish 181 issues of the magazine before it was cancelled in 1949.

docsavage_01b_bamaDoc Savage became known to more contemporary readers when Bantam Books began reprinting the individual magazine novels in 1964, this time with covers by artist James Bama that featured a bronze-haired, bronze-skinned Doc Savage with an exaggerated widows’ peak, usually wearing a torn khaki shirt and under the by-line “Kenneth Robeson”. The stories were not reprinted in chronological order as originally published, though they did begin with the first adventure, The Man of Bronze. By 1967, Bantam was publishing once a month until 1990, when all 181 original stories (plus an unpublished novel, The Red Spider) had run their course. Author Will Murray produced seven more Doc Savage novels for Bantam Books from Lester Dent’s original outlines.

For me it all began at the start of a summer vacation in 1975. My family had embarked on a long drive, my mother and father in the front and us three kids, me and my two younger brothers, in the back seat. As is typical in these situations, bickering began before long and my parents stopped the car in a nearby town to try to rectify the situation. I was given money and pointed to a used bookstore and told to go buy some comic books to read along the way.

In the front of the store was a bin containing used paperbacks which I immediately began to paw through. As I perused covers looking, no doubt, for some Star Trek books a cover leaped up at me from inside the bin.

It was a thin paperback emblazoned with the strange, vaguely flag-shaped words: Doc Savage. Above the type was another title: The Other World.

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To a ten year old kid who loved monsters, dinosaurs, heroes and action, this cover was a perfect storm. The cover art was so fantastic and yet so real! Was it a photograph? I had to squint closely at it to determine that it was a painting, but the most realistically rendered one I had ever seen! I did not know it at the time, but the cover artist was the amazing and talented James Bama, the artist whose work adorned most of the paperback reissues of the Doc Savage adventures.

SavageI purchased the paperback and spent the rest of that summer engrossed in the breathless and thrilling world of Doc Savage and his amazing crew of larger than life heroes. I was hooked. That summer, if it wasn’t Doc Savage, I wasn’t interested.

And that summer there was a lot of Doc Savage going on. 1975 was the year that Warner Brothers released the first film version of Doc Savage produced by George Pal. In the wake of that release, Marvel Comics had begun producing a monthly Doc Savage magazine featuring all-new Doc Savage adventures rendered in amazing black-and-white art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga. Naturally I devoured each and every issue.

RogerKastelMovieThe 1975 film, although criticized for not taking itself seriously enough, was a faithful adaptation of the characters and situations, if not the actual plot of the first novel. In 1975 Warner Brothers was obviously uncertain how to market the film to audiences. Since the 1966 Batman movie and TV series, with its campy tone and self-depreciating humor was such a success, that seemed to be the way to go. In hindsight it is clear that the attempt only succeeded in needlessly ruining what could have been a decent film.

The movie is very dated. It is clearly of it`s time (I mean the 1970`s, rather than the 1930`s in which it was set) and it featured no really big stars. The actor playing Doc, Ron Ealy, had achieved his success by starring in a television series based on Tarzan in the decade prior to this.

Now, more than 40 years later, Hollywood is about to try again. Shane Black, the director and writer of movies such as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3, is determined to bring the character back with Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson as the iconic pulp superhero.

Will it succeed? Will it even happen? Who knows? But people will be talking about it, and if you knew nothing about Doc Savage, at least now you know a bit more than you did before.