McDonald’s Minions: A Trick of the Ear

Sometimes we hear what we want to.

Recently McDonald’s came out with a line of toys for their Happy Meals based on the upcoming movie MINIONS.

You know the minions, right? Those little yellow capsule shaped critters that speak a nonsense language that has been dubbed “minionese” Well, the little toy in the Happy Meal speaks some of these nonsense phrases when you tap it on the butt and a lot of people think that one of the phrases sounds an awful lot like the little critter is saying “what the fuck?” Videos are being posted on youtube with parents tapping the little toys’ butts and making it say phrases until it gets to the one that sounds offensive. “That’s not a phrase that kids should be hearing from a toy,” they intone reproachfully. “Seriously, McDonald’s?” they scold.

What the fuck?

Seriously, parents? Do you honestly think that a huge mega-corporation like McDonald’s would do that? Deliberately distribute a toy that utters profane phrases in an attempt to corrupt the youth of America?

Seriously, people?

McDonald’s is a corporation whose dominance of the fast food market is not the sure thing it once was. They have been scrambling in the past few years to combat their image as a major contributor to the nation’s obesity and heart disease problems. They have enough trouble trying to justify the huge amounts of crappy food they sell to impressionable youths around the world.

The last thing they need is a scandal involving a cursing toy.

But people hear what they want to hear. Or, more accurately, people hear what they are used to hearing. If a minion toy says a phrase with an inflection that sounds like another sentence with the same inflection we hear the sentence we are most used to hearing. Recently Taylor Swift released a song called Blank Space. In it she had a lyric about having a long list of ex-lovers.

Well, most people don’t have a long list of ex-lovers, so they tried to interpret the lyrics based on their day-to-day experiences. Thus “I’ve got a long list of ex-lovers” in their minds was transmuted to “Gotta love those Starbuck’s lovers”

What the fuck?

Like a trick of the eye, this is a trick of the ear. We hear what makes most sense to us. After all, who doesn’t love a Starbuck’s lover?

When my kids were young my daughter had a toy bat from the animated movie Anastasia. The bat spoke with a Peter Lorre type accent and it said a handful of different phrases from the film including one that we couldn’t quite make out. It sounded like the Peter Lorre bat was telling us to “…buy some tequila.”

Once we saw the film we realized that what it was actually saying was: “Stress… it’s a killer!”. Which doesn’t make much sense on its own but in the context of the film made some sort of sense (kind of). It’s funny what a bad recording can turn itself into in the fertile mind.

It’s like that classic song from the early sixties by the Kingsmen. Louie, Louie, the song made famous by the movie Animal House, had lyrics that were barely intelligible. The Kingsmen’s lead singer, Jack Ely, slurred his way through the infamous rhythm and blues song in one take.. The unintelligible lyrics l;ed to speculation that it was done intentionally to cover up the profanity laden lyrics that graphically described the sexual congress of a sailor and his lady. The song became so notorious even the FBI had some agents investigating it to see if it was, in fact, lewd and depraved.

Even J. Edgar’s finest had to finally admit that the lyrics were unintelligible gibberish.

But people heard what they wanted to hear. Kids wanted to believe that these raucous singers were singing about things that were forbidden, playing into their narratives of raging hormones. For their parents it played into their narrative of the rock and roll music phenomenon being a danger to their pure and chaste children. They found it easy to believe that it was a menace, deliberately corrupting America’s youth.

That’s probably why today’s parents believe that McDonald’s minion toys are teaching their kids to speak profanity. It’s happening, after all. Children all over North America are offering up expletives that would make sailors blush. Parents have to blame somebody (not themselves, of course, they are blameless victims!) so why not an evil corporate giant who is easily made the villain because of the way that their fast food outlets made them and their kids fat.

Never mind about personal choice. Never mind about taking responsibility for one’s own actions or eating habits, or, now, their lack of vigilance when it comes to uttering profanity in front of their darling offspring. No! Blame the villain! Blame corporate culture for filling our kids ears with hateful profanity!

Yeah, that’s the ticket!

What the fuck?

Wonder Woman: Relevant or Ridiculous?

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In the world of comic book superheroes, there is the trinity: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

2160789-sensation1_coverBatman and Superman are iconic characters and have changed and morphed over the decades since their first appearances. They have changed to stay relevant to comic book fans in a changing world.

But how successful has that transformation been? The male heroes have become darker, grittier and grimmer, but what about Wonder Woman? How has she been able to stay relevant?

Has she been able to stay relevant?

Wonder Woman has had an interesting history that few comic book readers are familiar with.

In the early 1940’s the DC comics line was dominated by super powered male characters. Psychologist William Moulton Marston, the inventor of the polygraph, or lie-detector test, struck upon the idea for a new kind of superhero, one who would triumph not with fists or firepower, but with love. After introducing the idea to comic publisher Max Gaines, Marston, along with his wife Elizabeth, began to develop the hero who would eventually become Wonder Woman

All-Star-Comics-8-december-1941-featuring-wonder-womanMarston was an unconventional figure in the 1940’s as was his wife, Elizabeth, whom he considered a model of the unconventional liberated woman. He was also inspired by a former student of his, Olive Byrne, who lived with the couple in a polygamous/poly-amorous relationship.

“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power.” Marston wrote in 1943. “Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”

Marston used a pen name that combined his middle name with that of Gaines to create Charles Moulton. Marston intended his character, which he called “Suprema”, to be “tender, submissive, peace loving as good women are,” combining “all the strength of a Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” His character was a native of an all-female utopia who became a crime-fighting U.S. government agent, using her superhuman strength and agility, and her ability to force villains to tell the truth by binding them with her magic lasso. Her appearance, including her heavy silver bracelets (which she used to deflect bullets), was based somewhat on Olive Byrne.

In 2002, Heritage Auctions listed an original Illustration by Harry G. Peter, the first sketches of Wonder Woman, with notes from Marston on the look.

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Editor Sheldon Mayer replaced the name “Suprema” with “Wonder Woman”, and the character made her debut in All-Star Comics #8 (December 1941).

sensation-comics_05It was never smooth sailing with Marston who wrote the comics under the pseudonym Charles Moulton. Complaints began coming in almost immediately with one prominent bishop complaining that Wonder Woman was “not fully dressed”. Marston also had, it seemed, an obsession with bondage. He was extremely specific as to what kind of chains Wonder Woman should be bound with. A lot of Marston’s storylines involve Wonder Woman being tied up. “The secret of woman’s allure,” he once told Gaines, is that “Women enjoy submission—being bound.”

Wonder Woman was never allowed to be just a comic book like the other heroes. Gaines was in constant consultation with psychologists regarding Wonder Woman’s storylines. Great scrutiny was brought to her every action and to her wardrobe.

Wonder_WomanThat was, sadly, not to change over the seventy year history of the character. Her origins have been revised many times throughout the decades, as has her outfit. With the television series from the 1970’s starring Lynda Carter, a good deal of campiness was introduced to the character. Carter was a voluptuous woman. In the Wonder Woman outfit, her assets were on prominent display, often overshadowing the character’s other virtues.

And that, I think, is part of the problem for Wonder Woman. She is a strong and potent ideal for feminism, but in a bathing suit. The cognitive dissonance of Wonder Woman almost rivals that of the Miss America Pageant where spin doctors try to portray it as a “scholarship program” but one where the contestants are required to participate in swimwear.

WonderWoman_by_els3basWomen scholars are not to be judged based on how they look in a bathing suit. Neither should a superhero, but there’s the rub. Wonder Woman represents the pinnacle of heroic behavior but also of athleticism and beauty. In that respect she is representative of modern women in the pursuit of that balance. Still, not even her steel bracelets can protect her from society’s judgment and, often, scorn.

Changing her costume to something a little less sexist is fraught with controversy. Old school fans rail against the change and still others accuse the comic creators of pandering to feminists. Some readers want Wonder Woman to live up to feminist ideals. Others just want her looking hot in her costume.

2903163-01So what’s a Wonder Woman to do? Her latest incarnation (and, it seems, her upcoming appearance in the Superman vs. Batman film) has her more closely resembling Xena the Warrior Princess.

Greek Goddess… Miss America… Xena… which role does she play in order to make others happy. Isn’t that the dilemma of a woman today? She finds herself having to behave and dress in certain ways to make others (mostly men) happy. That’s the irony of Wonder Woman. For a character who is portrayed as being true to herself and to her heroic ideals, she has to, it seems, do an awful lot of pandering to her audience.

Along the way I have to wonder (pardon the pun) is she the representative of a feminine ideal or just a boob show? Is she a positive role model for women and girls or is she just a bit of cheesecake for male comic book readers?

I’d like to think it was the former, but after all this time I still don’t think the answer is entirely clear.

What do you think?

It’s About Time…

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TIME LIKE BROKEN GLASS is my first fantasy novel, although not my first fantasy story. Nor is it even the first story that I have written for this particular fantasy setting.

This novel represents my third foray into the world of Magistria, a fantasy universe created over ten years ago by writer G. W. Thomas. Inspired by the shared world anthologies like Robert Lynn Aspirin’s THIEVES WORLD or the WILD CARDS universe created by George R. R. Martin, Thomas conceived of a magical world where mages controlled a certain element. There were mages who could control fire, some who could control ice and others who could control metal or plants. There were even mages whose specialty was death and whose arcane talents could reanimate dead flesh.

511bpMnaamL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I was only one of more than a dozen authors who contributed a story to the first anthology, MAGISTRIA: THE REALM OF THE SORCERER back in 2005 and I was in good company. Lillian Csernica, Joshua M. Reynolds, Laurence Barker, Robert Burke Richardson and Robert J Santa were only a handful of the anazing writers who submitted stories. (The book is still available today from Amazon.com if you want to check it out).

Working from the shared world introduction and outline – the “bible” of the universe, if you will – I seized on the idea of the air mage. The air mage was a sorcerer who could control the winds. I liked that idea but I wondered if there could be a subset of those mages who controlled the air in a more subtle way, by manipulating the air using vibration.

To that end I wrote The Singer and the Song, a story about Foundman Singer, an air mage who had lost his memory due to a trauma and did not know that he was an air mage.

The first anthology was moderately successful so a second anthology was planned. For this I wrote a story called Seeds in Winter about a plant mage attempting to learn the secrets of a death mage to ressurect her dead lover.

Magistria2displayThe first anthology had been edited by G.W. Thomas. The second one was to have been edited by Robert J. Santa at his own Ricasso Press. At the time, freshly excited about the Magistria universe, I suggested to Rob that I could write a novel length story about Magistria. He was behind the idea so I began writing the story that would eventually become TIME LIKE BROKEN GLASS.

Unfortunately Ricasso Press never released the second anthology.

By that time, G. W. Thomas had moved on to other things and the anthology was forgotten. TIME LIKE BROKEN GLASS sat in a (virtual) drawer for a long time.

Years later and G.W. Thomas is now in charge of RAGE MACHINE BOOKS. Rage Machine had published my first two novels, the second of which, DEBT’S PLEDGE enjoyed considerable success. I immediately began to write a sequel to DEBT’S PLEDGE. I was keen to have it finished and published one year after the publication date of the first book.

Unfortunately, other obligations got in the way and progress on that book was slowed down to the point where I was not going to make that deadline.

I had another book written, but was not convinced that it was “up to snuff”. I suggested that perhaps Rage Machine could finally publish TIME LIKE BROKEN GLASS. G.W. Was behind the idea and now, finally, the book can see print.

TIME LIKE BROKEN GLASS is a fantasy novel, featuring magic and magicians, But it is also a time travel story. I am chiefly a science fiction writer and I have always been fascinated with time travel. I love books, movies and tv shows featuring travel through time from Kieth Laumer’s Dinosaur Beach to THE TIME TUNNEL to DOCTOR WHO.

But time travel is usually a science fiction trope. What kind of a high fantasy could I write with time travel as its central conceit? So I created the time mage and with a lot of enthusiasm and heedless of the potential confusion I went ahead and wrote it. Constructing a narrative that involves time travel can be tricky. It requires meticulous planning and careful plotting.

But I didn’t do any of that. I just threw all the pieces in the air and started juggling as best I could, hoping that the entire thing would make sense when it was all done.

Surprisingly, it did!

How well? You can judge that for yourself. It is available at Amazon.com right here and will soon be available at other e-book venues as well as print versions.

Coming Soon: Time Like Broken Glass

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“In a world of magic one city is the focal point for a desperate struggle that is fought through all of time.

Mages harness the powers of different elements – air, fire, ice, metal, even death – and wield that power in their struggle to survive. But one powerful mage can cantrol time itself. Now mages and mortals alike find themselves allied against that power and three heroes, separated by vast gulfs of time, must find a way to save the magic, the great city and existence itself.”

This is my first fantasy novel and it will be released in the next couple of days from RAGE MACHINE BOOKS. Look for a longer post about the book and about the universe in which it is set: Magistria!

The Artist as Criminal: The Frank Cho Spider Gwen Controversy

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This is a cross post from the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website:

You see, this last week the internet exploded.

Yeah, I know, the internet is exploding all the time. The most recent big explosion has been all about the Hugo Awards and the Sad Puppies. That explosion has caused lots of aftershocks that are still going on. But I’m not talking about that internet volcano.

Frank Cho is a brilliantly talented comic book artist. As well as drawing and writing his own comic strip, Liberty Meadows for five years in National Syndication and still today under his own banner, Cho has worked extensively for Marvel Comics and Dynamite comics. Cho is noted for his figure drawing, precise lines, and depiction of well-endowed women.

Cho maintains his own website, Apes and Babes where his award winning Liberty Meadows strip can be seen and where he posts images of works-in-progress as well as quick sketeches, many of them humorous.

It was one of these sketches that recently caused the internet to blow up.

Let’s back up a bit. In 2014 Marvel Comics announced that they would be releasing issues of certain titles with variant covers drawn by Italian artist Milo Manara. Manara is a world renowned artist who has created work for Marvel before as well as other comics in America. Manara also produces comics, mostly in Europe, that are highly erotic and, in some cases pornographic. That kind of work raises few eyebrows in Europe, but in America it is not tolerated.

Manara produced a variant cover for Marvel’s Spider-Woman #1.

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And the reaction was… intense. So intense, in fact, that Marvel ended up pulling Manara’s cover and using another artist.

But the damage was done. The image flew around the internet followed by angry tirades and accusations of sexism.

So, last week Frank Cho, in his off-time, created a cheeky drawing based on Manara’s cover. He depicted a character called Spider-Gwen, an alternate universe variant of Spider-Man that has become popular with younger readers. Cho did a quick sketch and posted it to his own website.

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Cue the internet explosion. This time it was led by Robbi Rodriguez, the lead artist on the Spider-Gwen title. On his twitter feed Rodriguez uttered a vague threat against Cho for besmirching the virtue of his character. “Your (sic) drawing dirty pictures of one of my kids. Be lucky your (sic) never around me.” The twitter post implied physical violence but Rodriguez later stepped back from that in a longer post on his Facebook, saying he would only have given Cho an earful with a lot of cursing and then proceeded to give Cho and the world said earful in a profanity laden rant. In his rant he states that there is a place for drawing like that (on an artist’s own website, perhaps?) and that it isn’t about censorship but then exhorts Cho to stop doing it and change with the times. The internet then proceeded to crucify Cho for daring to sexualize a comic book character.

Although apparently posting art of that sort is okay for Rodriguez when he does it on his own website:

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The irony of this (and there is so much irony to go around) is that many of the same voices decrying Cho’s art were likely the same people who plastered their Facebook pages with “Je Suis Charlie” in sympathy with the Charlie Hebdo artists who were massacred by extremists.

And that is where the irony lies in it for me. Free speech is a right that must be defended and defended vigorously. But it is not always an easy thing to do. When you defend free speech some of that speech is going to come from opinions and world views that are different from your own. Sometimes that speech may seem to you to be verging on hateful. Nevertheless, if you are committed to free speech than you must be committed. You can’t cherry pick what free speech you champion and censor what you don’t like. If you do that then you are NOT championing free speech.

Free speech means that there will be lots of ranting and raving. Cho is free to express himself. Rodriguez is free to respond. I defend his right to do so. But then I am free to take Rodriguez to task for his reaction, his inconsistency, and his vague threats.

As for Frank Cho, his response was this:

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and he wrote: “To be honest, I was amused and surprised by the uproar since it was, in my opinion, over nothing. It’s essentially a small group of angry and humorless people ranting against my DRAWING of a pretty woman. It’s utter nonsense. This world would be a better and a happier place if some people just grow a sense of humor and relax”

As the infamous underground artist Robert Crumb observed years ago: “It’s only lines on paper, folks!”.

Addendum: The internet changes fast. After I had marked this post as “Ready to Go” Frank posted another drawing. Clearly the man is incorrigible. The flames of burning internet have not made him lose his sense of humor.

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He’s having fun with the outrage. Don’t stop, Frank!

Civil Hands Unclean

I have tried to write this post several times since the 2015 Hugo Award nominees were announced and the fan community lost their collective minds over it. In order to have something relevant to add I have tried to figure out how this situation has come about and in doing so, in reading the words of participants from both sides, in moving from anger and despair to shaking my head in bemusement, I have come to the only conclusion that makes sense to me.

If you don’t know what is going on I will refer you to Matthew M. Foster‘s recent blog post where he outlines the situation far more eloquently than I ever could. You can read part one of his overview here.

Honestly, when politics of any kind enters any organization it always leads to this sort of situation. When an organization (or a country for that matter) becomes so polarized the resultant tug-of-war will inevitably bring out anger, outrage, resentment, name calling and the kind of disruption that can lead to a lifetime’s worth of bitterness and disappointment.

Other than being a reader of science fiction and fantasy since I learned how to read, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I am an author, but I am not now nor am I ever likely to be eligible for a Hugo Award. I am not involved in the fan community. I am not a member of any official fan organization. I am the equivalent of an armchair quarterback shouting epithets at the players during the game. Take my words with a grain or two of salt.

Pundits from both sides have been guilty of abominable behavior, from name-calling to spite filled threats of voting “no award” (the equivalent of picking up your ball and going home). Some have claimed nobility by refusing nominations but have done so in such a demonstrable fashion as to put the lie to those claims. Civil discussions on Facebook quickly degrade to knee-jerk reactionism from both sides and the inevitable name-calling starts to happen. I made a simple, unbiased statement of fact in one forum and was roundly accused of “drinking the Kool-aid”.

Both sides claim to care only about the literature and not the politics but the politics seem to keep creeping back in. Perhaps it is merely a reflection of the larger schism that exists in America at the moment. Perhaps a civil consensus will be reached  at some point. As someone who sits on the sidelines (and across the border from the whole affair, figuratively and literally) I do not see an end anytime soon.

I have loved science fiction and science fiction fandom all my life. This will not change that. It has changed my opinion about people whom I have admired for a long time (some for the better, mostly for the worst) and it has introduced me to people of whom I formerly knew nothing. I hope that in the end good will come out of this contretemps. When the dust has settled I hope that tomorrow we will have a Hugo Award that is better for all the shouting that is being done today.

Until then I am saddened and dismayed at the whole thing. A plague on both your houses.

Resistance of the New

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(*NOTE: This is a cross post with the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website where it appears under the byline M. D. Jackson. I’m reproducing it here)

It’s the second day of the new year. Are you looking forward to seeing what wonders it will bring or are you dreading it? Are you embracing the new, or are you resisting it?

81711841_1336987555_1367217745_540x540As science fiction fans it is usually expected, even if we only expect it of ourselves, that we will embrace new things, new technologies, new ideas. That’s who we are, or, at least, that’s who we tell ourselves that we are. We explore strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations. That’s us – boldly going and all that.

But do we really?

I’m sure most of us do. I’m probably preaching to the choir here. But sometimes I run into resistance of new things, even things that seem like a fait accompli, and it baffles me.

LudditesSmashingLoomLarge-757004I started thinking about this recently when a couple of co-workers expressed their opinion that the internet and the whole world of online connectivity, was a bad thing. They were lamenting the loss of the days before the internet, before email and texting.

These weren’t cave dwelling Luddites. They weren’t cranky seniors. These were professionals who work in an office environment. They regularly use email, i-phones, Facebook, etc. So it surprised me that they considered the whole digital age to be, on the whole, a negative thing. I disagreed with them. I said that there is good and bad in everything but that, on the whole, the internet and the connectivity of our world is a positive thing.

They remained dubious.

We didn’t discuss it further but it still confused me. Why the resistance? Why focus on all the negative things about our connectivity and ignore all the benefits?

anti-technologyPartly, I think, it is the human tendency to do just that – to focus on the negative. We tend to seek out bad news and ignore good news when it doesn’t effect us personally. As someone who has worked in the newspaper industry I know this very well. An old circulation manager told me as much shortly after I began working for a particular paper. “I get less returns on papers when the front page story is bad news,” he said. “An accident, tragedy, disaster, whatever. Those papers sell out. A “feel-good’ story on the cover means I get lots of returns to deal with.”

Partly it could be fear. The present moment moves from the past into the future and we move along with it like being swept away by a current. We grab on to things… hold on in a desperate attempt to feel safe and grounded. When we encounter something new we don’t want to lose those things that make us feel safe so we hang on to them tighter even if they threaten to pull us under by their ponderous weight.

FredricWerthamE-books were once regarded with fear, distrust and disdain. I know. I was one of them for the longest time until, as an e-author, I saw first hand the advantages and benefits of e-publishing.

Before the advent of e-books there was the great resistance to another fledgling medium, the comic book. When comics hit the scene voices decried their evils and shrill warnings sounded about how they would corrupt the youth of North America. Well meaning (but ultimately self-serving) figures like Psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham and writer Judith Crist decried the evils of this fledgling medium.

Today the majority of the highest grossing films are based on characters from the comic books. Far from turning a generation into raging delinquents, the comics fired up imaginations and led to new expressions of creativity. The medium has produced works, such as Art Spigel’s Maus, that has garnered some of the highest awards that the world of letters can bestow.

Maybe Douglas Adams put it best: “There’s a set of rules that anything that was in the world when you were born is normal and natural. Anything invented bet ween when you were 15 and 35 is new and revolutionary and exciting, and you’ll probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.”

worldtechnologyRight now our connected world and the mediums made possible by the internet are producing works of astounding quality. If we can resist the Luddite urge to tear it all down (or the business world’s urge to corporatize it) new mediums, mediums of which we have not even dreamt, will produce some of the greatest art that the world has ever known. As we move along with the stream of time we will let go of our fear of art that is not presented on canvas or literature that is not presented on paper, or films that are not shown only in movie houses (Yes, I am referring to Sony’s groundbreaking release strategy for The Interview, regardless of how accidental it was) and we will embrace the new.

The New Year is here. Yes, it can be frightening seen through eyes that are clouded by fear (or perhaps just a hangover) but it also holds endless possibilities. Go boldly. Find those possibilities and grab onto them. Tell stories in whatever new medium comes along.

Just make sure they are amazing.