Feb 6, 2015

[REVIEW] Mad As Hell (Documentary)



RATING: 8/10 CHET BAKERS

NOTE: Review has been edited to include material that was mistakenly left out near the end.

Cenk Uygur is a highly divisive individual, to put it mildly.  You often hear people or things referred to as "you either love them or hate them, there is no middle ground", to the point where these things are cliched.  However, there are some people that fall under that umbrella, and I think Cenk is clearly one of those. His image and personality is so bombastic and in your face and, at times, over the top, that he, himself, has obliterated any middle ground there may be, leaving you with one of two choices.  Accept him or deny him.

Back in late 2012 filmmaker Andrew Napier, formerly an employee of The Young Turks online news show, set up an IndieGoGo campaign to help fund a documentary of Cenk's rise from a small town public access show in Virginia, to where he is now as the leader of the, in the words of Cenk Uygur himself, "Largest Online News Show In The World", a title that is questionable in its accuracy, but one that is run with with a cocksure manner.

Cenk seems to admit that the "Largest Online News Show in the World" is a bit on the untrue side in the documentary, but seems to take that on as a sort of challenge.  Almost like a weird version of George W. Bush's "Catapulting Propaganda" line, where you just keep on saying it until it's true.  Until you really ARE the best.

I mean in hip hop you have rappers saying all the time "We're the best, no one is better than me, who can dare compete with me?" and I don't know anyone that necessarily believes it to be 100% true.  Although, to be fair, this isn't hip hop, this is a news organization that wants to be taken seriously.  At times, despite my being a fan, I think they tend to trip over their own shoes in that endeavor and hurts their cause, including with grandiose declarations that aren't entirely true.

One such braggodocio that I've sort of been annoyed at is the whole "Billion Views on Youtube" and them seeming to equate that with the number of actual people viewing, rather than the number of page views.  I mean I know Google has methods in place to counteract those who try to manipulate the numbers, and their numbers have been verified according to them, however, I don't know anyone who would honestly believe that 1 billion individuals have watched their show.

Also if you look at their top 25 most viewed videos on their channel, you see that there's, being generous, seven videos that are serious news, and the rest are all pop culture, celebrity gossip bullshit videos like Kim Kardashian or that type of ilk.  

So when you say "you're the most viewed online news organization" but the vast majority of your views are coming from nonsense celebrity gossip shit, and not the actual hard news that you definitely also do, I think that also falls under the misleading thing that hurts your credibility.

When Keith Olbermann was excommunicated from Current TV, he apparently threw The Young Turks under the bus, and in the court filings that he made against Current TV, he mentioned how he was against the hiring of Cenk for the network and said, among other things, that Cenk had "difficulty separating facts from things he wanted to be true.".

However, it should be said, that this brash type of attitude is a big part of what makes him popular as well, so I think perhaps in Cenk's mind, it all balances out.  I do worry that he will eventually reach this point, if he hasn't already, where it's Choir Preaching territory.  Where he's simply hit that wall where the only people that he will reach are those who already believe in what he is saying.  Everyone else will simply ignore or dismiss based on either preconceived notions, confirmation bias or whatever the case may be.

Now this probably sounds like I'm not a fan of Cenk's, but I am. I'm a supporter, I'm a paying member (off and on over the years depending on my financial situation) however it's really hard to argue with that.  It's that whole say it until it's true mantra that he embraces that, I think, does his brand harm and makes it easier for people to dismiss him, despite what he is saying about other topics actually being true.  Which is unfortunate.

As I said in the beginning, he's a very divisive "Love Him or Hate Him" kinda guy, no in between.

Prior to watching this documentary I skimmed around online and found a few reviews that seemed to be less than glowing.  The Rotten Tomatoes rating currently stands at around 30%, although it may go up or down a bit as the movie is just being released today officially.   One of the major criticisms of the documentary is that the director, Andrew Napier, is too close to the subject, and that the whole thing comes off as a glorified promo or commercial for Cenk and The Young Turks.

But I think these people miss the point, really, and I think these people don't necessarily understand documentaries.  Namely that there's not a single style or type of documentary out there.  You have the hard hitting expose documentaries, in which you go in and you will sit down with all sides of a debate and you'll have people who are pro or against your topic.  The upcoming Scientology documentary from HBO based on the amazing book "Going Clear" is no doubt like this, as the book was meticulously detailed and researched, and there were interviews with both Scientologists and those who were being criticial of them, and then you could make your decision as to who to believe. 

There are documentaries like the phenomenal "Talk 16/Talk 19" series by Canadian filmmakers Janis Lundman and Adrienne Mitchell that chronicled the everyday lives of five 16 year old girls, and then 3 years later caught up with them and sort of followed up.  In those there is no commentary, no narration, just those girls speaking about their lives in their own words. 

There's no guiding you towards any viewpoint at all, which I found refreshing.

Then there is the Michael Moore type of documentary where he is going in with a clear view of right or wrong and his goal is to make you agree with him.  Love him or Hate him, he's good at what he does.   And then there's the "Mad as Hell" Documentary that is essentially showcasing a subject from his roots to where he is now and how he got there.  I don't think it's making the case that this is an unbiased raw hard look at someone, warts and all. I think this is fairly honest in what it is trying to do, I think Andrew Napier is very upfront and honest about himself and his opinions on the subject, so as I said I don't see anything wrong with that.


The documentary is very well done, and I think that even though it is overwhelming positive and a glowing view of the subject, I disagree with those who say that this is simply a puff piece or a glorified promo, as there are moments in which those close to him question his motives and do have critical thoughts that they voice to the camera, and to Cenk.   I think Cenk might be better served to really consider what some of the criticism is, rather than take his "Okay, that's nice, okay, I hear you, now I'm the Boss so this is how we're doing it" tact that he tends to embrace.

The great advice for those going into business is to surround yourself with people smarter than you are, because these people know things you don't, they know mistakes and pitfalls to avoid.  They've been there and have the knowledge of what to do and not do.  You don't surround yourself with people you respect and then simply nod your head when they tell you serious issues they have and then you just ignore that and do what you want to do.  It IS your company but still.

I also think Cenk came off a bit bad with the situation involving Jill Pike, who was one of the original Turks on The Young Turks.  She wanted more involvement with the political aspects, and Cenk wanted her on the pop culture fluff type stories. 

Maybe I'm wrong, and the whole of information that I have on that situation with Pike, other than me knowing she used to be on the show but is no longer a part of it, is what I saw in this documentary, however I really got the impression that Cenk wanted a pretty attractive woman to do the bullshit nonsense stories, and to leave the politics up to the men who know that type of stuff.  It honestly came off like he just did not have the faith in Jill, as a woman, to do the serious stories, and almost had a Ron Burgundy like sexist response of "No, no, no, this is what you do, and this over here is what WE do."  And then, when she decides to take a job in DC to do what she loves, more serious stories, he doesn't seem to like that, and then he replaces her with Ana Kasparian, who was at that time an intern, and to this day, she 99% does just the second half stories which are predominantly sex type stories and porn related and whatever.

The quality of stories in the second hour are a lot better than they were in the beginning of the show, and there are some fascinating stories she covers, but no one confuses the first and the second hours of the show.  The first hour is the serious one and it's almost all men, and the second one is where they bring in the attractive women to do the stories about porn stars, or Japanese Sex Robots or whatever, along with a male co-host, either Cenk or Ben or Jimmy Dore, or whoever the first hour holdovers are on that particular day.

Being a long time listener of the show I can sense Ana's frustration, and this is not from the documentary, but from recent weeks, in which she kind of vents her feelings about how there are those who write in in the comments of the Youtube videos about her and how she's only there because of her looks and "her boobs" and whatnot.  To be clear I don't necessarily think that she's only there because of her looks.  She's more than qualified to do  these stories, and I think she would make  a great host that can do serious stories as well.  I DO however believe that to say that her attractiveness plays no role whatsoever in her being on is ludicrous and I don't think she would even argue with that.  It's not the only reason, and it shouldn't be used as a way to dismiss her or diminish her contributions, although it has been by ignorant mouthbreathing knuckledraggers, but I think just like any woman in any industry that relies on being the face of something, your appearance matters.

Just like NFL sideline reporters, often after they get to a certain age, they're pushed out in favor of the prettier, younger, perkier options.  It sucks but it's how it is.

EDIT: I wanted to clarify that there are instances of Ana or other women co-anchoring the 1st hour, particularly when Cenk is away on other business, however for the most part, the 1st hour is overwhelmingly male dominated, while the second "lighter" hour, has I would say a predominantly, not not overwhelmingly female makeup.

All in all, this was a very informative documentary, if you are interested in learning more about Cenk's rise from humble beginnings to the level that he's at now.  It doesn't go quite as deep as it could, and I agree with those in the "What the Flick" review, when they pointed out that it would have been nice to have had some insight into how his turning down the multi-million dollar deal with MSNBC resonated with his wife Wendy, considering they just had a kid recently.  In fact, there's hardly any interviews with Wendy.  I would have liked to have heard her thoughts on some of the decisions Cenk had made over the years that seemed insane, and then things turned out okay, such as turning down the Sirius XM deal, or the aforementioned MSNBC deal.



That said, while it's not a perfect documentary, it's more than up to the task of telling the story of the subject and presenting him in the light that the filmmaker wanted.   I'm not a film guy, I'm not a professional auteur or anything, so I can't speak on the editing and direction and whatnot.  I'm simply a fan of the Young Turks and Cenk Uygur (despite how I may have come off above) despite his blemishes, and imperfections.

In that respects, I consider myself aligned with TYT employee Mark Register who was featured in the documentary as someone that had a lot of doubts about not only some of the things that Cenk was saying, but also expressing doubts about decisions that he made.  And yet, despite that, he's someone that looks up to Cenk and seems to be inspired by him.

That's not a bad way to be, I don't think.  You can be a friend, you can be a supporter, and not be 100% in favor of what they say and do.

The documentary could have done a bit more, I think, when covering the Occupy protests that Cenk took part in a bit, as well as the Wolf-Pac project that Cenk and TYT have spearheaded, to get money out of politics.   I think that's a very worthwhile effort, even if I am extremely hesitant to believe that it will work.  I just think that those in power have too much to lose in order to allow this to ultimately succeed.  I know they've gotten California, I know they've gotten Vermont and some other states, but I just cannot believe that the multi-billionaires are simply going to sit back and do nothing about this.

I agree that the politicians would probably prefer money out of politics (or at least most of them) because they don't like sitting around and raising money all the time.  That said, if anyone thinks the Koch Brothers or Shelden Adelson who are used to buying their way into the government, are just gonna throw their hands up and say "well, damn, it was a good run" and just allow a constitutional amendment to go forward...well, with all due respect to Cenk and those at TYT that are working hard on this absolutely important issue, that's really freaking naive.

Having said that, I was surprised by how little of Wolf-Pac was included in the documentary, and I don't know if that was by design, or if that was just starting up around the time that the documentary was wrapping.

I understand that the doc was coming up on a wrap date, and then Current TV was sold to Al Jazeera and then Napier extended the shooting to cover that aftermath.  If I'm wrong on what subject it was that extended the filming, someone let me know in the comments and I will correct it, however I'm 90% sure it was the Al Jazeera purchasing Current TV that got the filming delayed longer than expected.

Final thoughts on this:  I liked it. I really did, I learned a lot about Cenk that I did not know, it was cool seeing the old footage of Cenk on the public access show and seeing the transformation to now.  People complaining about it being too "friendly" with Cenk, I think are looking for things to criticize, quite frankly.  The documentary doesn't present itself as anything other than what it is, and if you came into this expecting something else, then maybe that blame doesn't lie on Napier or Cenk, it lies with you.

I think that if you are already a fan of Cenk and the Young Turks, then you should definitely check out this documentary, now available on Video on Demand on iTunes, Vimeo , Amazon Instant Video and Google Play, as well as in limited theatrical locations across the country.

If you're not a fan of Cenk Uygur, I wouldn't go in expecting to see some big expose that's gonna reveal his radical agenda that he's a Mouthy Muslim who needs a nose job (inside joke) , but you will find an entertaining presentation of a figure, who love him or hate him, you gotta respect the journey he has taken from where he first started to where he is now.

You have to respect that, even if you don't respect the man's political views.

Jan 14, 2015

[REVIEW] @10TonsLTD's "Tennis In The Face"



RATING: 8/10  
PLATFORMS:Mobile/PS4
PLATFORM REVIEWED: Playstation 4

Finnish based gaming developers 10TonsLtd are one of my favorite indie devs that is out there who have a very good track record where it comes to casual games.  While their games have previously predominantly made a showing on mobile markets such as the Apple iStore or the various Android markets, they have embraced the consoles by porting their games over to the current gen consoles such as the PS4 and Xbox 1 as well as the PC marketplace on Steam. NOTE: Not all games of theirs are available on Steam/Consoles at this time.

Their newest game to hit the gaming consoles is the quirky Tennis In The Face. Tennis in the Face is a physics type game that you could originally find on the mobile markets for ios and Android.  I grabbed it when it was free one day on the iPad and really enjoyed it a lot.  Very fun game, very funny as well, and I've always enjoyed physics based games, along the lines of Angry Birds and the such.



This one has a storyline, as it were, that involves a disgraced Tennis Star, Pete Pagassi (an obvious amalgamation, for those non-Tennis fans, of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi) who fell victim to an addiction to an energy drink called "Explodz".

Fresh out of rehab, Pagassi is determined to bring Explodz' empire crushing down around it, and so the self designed vigilante begins attack any and everyone involved with the drink whether it be hipsters, employees, scientists or the riot cops sent to stop him.

Tennis In The Face follows in the line of other fun casual titles by 10Tons such as Sparkle 2, Oddball King and Crimsonland, and much like those games, there is a lot of levels to go through.

Unlike some of the other games, there isn't as much to do as far as multiple modes and unlockables though, so if that's your thing, you may be slightly disappointed in that aspect.

In Oddball King and Sparkle 2, as you go through the game you unlock different types of modes or secret worlds.  In Sparkle 2 you unlocked difficulty levels, as well as perks that unlocked powers.  In Oddball King you unlocked modes where you had to complete levels with a single rock, or the mysterious Mustache World.

With Tennis In the Face, there are much less unlockables, although there is a funny level that is unlocked in which you get to attempt to take out the entire developer team on a single level, as well as a level where you can take out these creatures from a previous 10Tons game called "Joining Hands" which is available on iOS.



There are many who seem to decry this inundation of mobile games onto the current gen consoles like the Playstation 4 or the Xbox 1.  They'd rather see the focus be on big AAA games that push the limits of the graphical output and whatnot.  And to a certain degree I understand and would agree. 

However there's nothing wrong with some indie games.  There are some fantastic indie games out there whether it's from 10Tons or Mike Bithell's amazing "Thomas Was Alone" or the indie titles like Limbo, Closure, Braid, or those from my absolute favorite indie devs, ThatGameCompany who put out Flower, Flow and Journey.

My problem is less on cool and graphically pleasing to the eye games like the aforementioned, and more with the recent influx of these 8/16 bit games like Hotline Miami or Towerfall Ascension.  I don't wanna play Atari looking games on a PS4, especially when some of these have $15-$20 price tags.

There should be no problems with quality indie devs like 10Tons though who continuously provide fantastic quality gaming at fair reasonable prices.

If you are in the market for a fun casual title in between your AAA releases, then you could do much worse than to get Tennis In The Face.

NOTE: I was sent a review copy of this game, yet I was unable to redeem the code due to problems with the Playstation store which, I believe, kept invalidating my code because I had tried to redeem it too often in a certain period of time (although I was not aware that's what I was doing).   After a second code did not work I simply bought the game  myself.  Money well spent, I think.

You should buy it too.

Dec 7, 2014

[REVIEW] Thomas Was Alone by @MikeBithell


GAME TITLE: "Thomas Was Alone"
DEVELOPER:  @MikeBithell
PLATFORMS:  PSN/XBOX LIVE/STEAM
PLAYED ON:  Playstation 4
RATING:          9/10


So I have a friend who, when it comes to games, he only can bring himself to enjoy it if it's one of these AAA big blockbuster type games.  He's seriously limited in what he seems to enjoy.  He doesn't like RPG's, he doesn't like games like LittleBigPlanet he doesn't like fighting games (Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, etc), and he sure doesn't seem to like smaller indie games either.  He's mostly a shooter type gamer, with the occasional 3rd person action game player.

That's it, that's all.  That's sad.

The sad thing is, is that he's missed out on some fantastic games because he can't wrap his brain around the idea that they could be good.  I'm not completely averse to this way of thinking, unfortunately, as I despise the rash of 8/16 bit type games that are flooding the PS4 such as Towerfall Ascension, Hotline Miami, etc.  I hate them with a passion and cannot bring myself to play them more than a few minutes.

Perhaps my brain has moved on past those retro style games, much like my friend has moved on from damn near everything.  I dunno, but hey, we like what we like, no?

The thing is, though, we all have these little quirks in our personalities.  No one out there likes every type of game, and there are many who just refuse to even try.  I hate horror games. I won't play them.  Not because I'm scared, but it's just not my thing.  Resident Evil, The Evil Within, ...other games with "evil" in the title, I just ...not my thing.  These could be the most brilliant games ever, and I'll never find out.

So while I criticize my friend for not liking "little people" games, as he dismissively refers to things like LittleBigPlanet or Braid or whatever (referring to the size of the characters you play), I'm not that much better.

And I think that all it takes to reinforce how stupid that mentality is, is for a game like Thomas Was Alone to come along and just kind of slap you in the face and tell you to snap out of it.  Thomas Was Alone is an indie title that is available on the Playstation Network (Crossbuy with PS3/4/Vita), the Xbox Live store and Steam. And despite this being free on the Playstation Plus in the past, I never really paid it any mind. To be honest, while I am a massive supporter of indie artists, and games, as I mentioned before I despise the influx of retro style 8/16 bit looking games, I would have never played this game if it wasn't free.


I mistakenly assumed this was one of those "bit" games (the dev's name is Mike BIThell, for pete's sake), and just never gave it a chance.  So I was bored the other day and despite having a backlog of close to 10 AAA releases that I've either not started or only barely gotten into it, I saw this on my PS4 and decided to give it a shot.

Two days later I had finished it and was blown away by it.  The graphics are not going to yank awards away from Naughty Dog anytime soon, but as far as indie games go, this was damn near perfect. The "minimalist" visual nature of the game suited it well, for the story that was being told.  The narration by Danny Wallace of Bithell's excellent story, was fantastic and Wallace rightfully won an award for the narration.



As you play this, you get sucked into the story being told, and the combination of Wallace's entertaining, and often funny performance, and the amazing score by David Housden really creates a very calm and serene experience.  Which is really appreciated, as some of the gameplay can be infuriatingly frustrating.

There are numerous sections, particularly in the DLC, that require you to have impeccable timing and excellent hand/eye coordination, two things that I sorely lack.  This can lead to instances where you have to really either time things perfectly as you attempt to slide your character into a space with almost a zero margin of error allowed, as illustrated below in some game footage that I uploaded.  Note the character has a "jetpack" that allows it to fly around.  You have to navigate the maze, some parts which have spikes on the roof or floor, which means you have a tiny bit of room that's barely bigger than your character.


This can (and most assuredly will) lead to numerous deaths.  The silver lining is that usually these sections of the games happen at the save points, so when you die you're not sent all the way back to the beginning.  There are a few levels that are not very long, so there no save points, meaning you mess up, you start over, but despite the frustrating aspects to some of these levels, they are achievable.  The fact that I (who is someone who typically is not good at these types of games) beat the game, means most people may not have that much of a problem outside a few areas.

Another aspect to Danny Wallace's performance I liked was his enunciation on specific words and syllables.  It's a very animated performance, and there were certain words (such as a level where he suddenly got excited on the word "clouds") that made me smile.  The overall brilliant performance brought to mind Stephen Fry's wonderful narration to the LittleBigPlanet series.

In fact, this game reminded me of LittleBigPlanet quite a lot.  While the games are very different visually, the overall tone and vibe to the game and the general peacefulness and cheeriness of the game really did bring to mind MediaMolecule's fantastic series.   And it maintained that emotional grip throughout up to the end.  Another similar game in that sense is the excellent indie title "Braid", which is maybe one of my top 5 indie games I've ever played.

I can not recommend this game enough, if you have not played it.  You really should give it a try, whether it is on the Playstation Network (with CrossBuy w/PS3/PS4/PsVita), or via Steam or whatever console you own.  This is the first thing I have seen from creator Mike Bithell, but I am definitely on the lookout for his next game, which is called "Volume".








Nov 14, 2014

[INTERVIEW] @LeeCamp




SFCB: Lee why don't you introduce yourself to those out there who are reading this and are just now hearing about you for the first time.

LEE CAMP: I am a comedian and activist from Virginia and New York (about 13 years in both). I have been doing stand-up comedy for about 16 years. I'm creator of the web series "Moment of Clarity" and now the host and head writer of "Redacted Tonight with Lee Camp" on RT America


SFCB: Was there a certain point in your career that it hit you that "Hey...this shit might just work."?  Was it a specific person you looked up to that took you aside and gave you some good feedback, or was it getting a specific gig, at what point did you feel that while you might not have "made it" at that point, that you had faith that it was going to work out. 

LEE CAMP: I'm still not sure it's going to work out. HA! I mean, it's interesting that no matter what point you get to in a career like this, you always think, "Man, if I can just get to that next step." I'm sure most comedians would say the same. But as Seinfeld said, each show (or performance) is like a breath of air - it keeps you going to the next one and that's all you're thinking about. But back to your question - I certainly did have encouragement that helped a lot. Very early on Jimmy Fallon let me open for him when I was still in college. That gave me a big boost. Darrell Hammond then let me open for him and flew me out to meet his managers in LA. To me, that made it feel like "Wow, I've ALREADY made it." 

But of course that was just the beginning of a very long journey - one in which I found that traditional "Hollywood" has no interest in unknown political comics. Sure, they'll fawn over Jon Stewart but they're not grabbing the kid off a small stage and saying "Please, come rant about egregious income inequality on our TV show!" Later, I had great support from Paul Provenza. And even more recently I've had support from George Carlin's daughter Kelly and Bill Hicks's brother Steve. Steve listed me as one of three comedians with Bill's passion and message. It totally blew me away, and those type of things definitely help when I've decided to spend a weekend beating up on myself.



SFCB: You have had a very interesting evolution from doing your Moment of Clarity videos on Youtube to now having your own show, "Redacted Tonight".  Talk about Redacted Tonight and how it differs from any of the other news shows that are out there.

LEE CAMP: Well, it definitely differs from other news shows in about every way. First of all - it's comedy. Secondly, I try to go after all the stories that are not being covered on the mainstream media, or at least show you the side of it that's being ignored. We're kinda like the "censored" comedy news show. I also throw in a healthy dose of protest coverage. I want viewers to realize that there are people standing up around the globe right now. Those of us who realize this system is corrupt and exploiting every last resource are fighting back. We also differ from other shows in that all of our content is also online. It's all free at the Official Redacted Tonight Youtube Channel.
 

SFCB: I'm always looking for news sites to read up about the topics of the day, but I find that more and more of these "news" sites are simply either corporate owned/dictated propaganda, or it's this unprofessional gossipy opinion stuff that's heavily relying on snark and misleading headlines and unflattering pictures of those they disagree with. Snark is great, of course, but I think when the ratio of information starts leaning heavier towards the tabloidy than the news and real reporting, it's a problem.

What are the news sites out there that you regularly read to not only bring you the news that is actually happening, but does so in a responsible way?


LEE CAMP: Well, I don't want to act like any site is perfect, but I get a lot of my news from Popular Resistence, Democracy Now, The Real News Network, Alternet, Acronym TV, and "Breaking The Set with Abby Martin"

SFCB: As someone who is fairly cynical and pessimistic about things, I find it very difficult to look at the way our political system is going, and have any hope that things are going to work out in a good way. THE Congress (I can't really say OUR Congress, because they don't work for us, although they are supposed to) is so dead set on opposing anything remotely productive as it stands, and now with Republicans having taken the Senate, which gives them both houses against the President, please talk me down from the ledge, Lee, and explain to me how this country is not well and truly fucked beyond repair?

LEE CAMP: I think in its current state it is fucked beyond repair, but not quite for the reasons you give. Sure, the Republicans block a lot of stuff, but look at the areas the Democrats and Republicans agree on - endless war, NDAA, the largest surveillance system ever on our own people, assault on journalists, assault on whistleblowers, ignoring climate change (or doing nothing about it), and letting Wall Street run wild. All those things are on both sides of the aisle. This is not a Dem v. GOP issue. This is a 99.9% of America v. THEM issue. The two corporate parties can't solve our problems. They don't know how. They only know profit. 

Even something like Obamacare (which is better than things were) is also a massive giveaway to insurance companies. The only solutions THEY can come up with are ones that allow massive corporations to continue to rampage through our lives. SO there has to be a revolution of the minds of all of us to change this beast. We aren't looking at the problem right. But here's the part where I'll talk you off the ledge. People ARE waking up. People are tired of this rancid duopoly. People are more informed than ever before - which is still NOT NEARLY enough. But if the internet remains free, we could get to a better place. 


SFCB: A lot has been made about getting money out of politics, and while I agree that that is probably the biggest and most important issue that we are facing, I don't see how this is going to work.

The Young Turks has Wolf-Pac and they are calling for a constitutional amendment.  As I said, though, that sounds great and all, and I know they've had some success, but why should I, or anyone else out there, believe that the Koch Brothers and all these other shady ass billionaires who have more money than God, are gonna sit back and allow that to ultimately succeed? 

What am I missing here?



LEE CAMP: I'm not sure you're missing anything. I support getting money out of politics but it is tough to see how it can be achieved. That being said, I'd rather go down swinging than go quietly. And some changes can be made on the local level. I think we should also work on changing our city or state and then take all the good ideas and make them spread nationally. 


SFCB: Lee Camp, thank you for your time today answering our questions. Before you go, tell us about any of your upcoming shows, or projects you have going right now.

LEE CAMP: I have live shows all the time - such as shows coming up in Vancouver at the Yuk Yuks Comedy Club on Nov 21 & 22. I of course have my TV show every Friday night at 8pm on RT America. You can watch it all online at the Official Redacted Tonight Youtube Channel. I also have a very active Facebook page that you can interact with me at. And finally everything else is at LeeCamp.net. Thanks!!

Nov 12, 2014

[INTERVIEW] Jesse James Higgins (Red Rage Comics)



SFCB: So Jesse, for those out there reading this, who may not know about you, let everyone know who you are and what you do.

JESSE JAMES HIGGINS: You mean there’s people in the world who don’t know indie comic producer’s like me… Scandal! I’m actually a little freaked out right now… Exterminate them all! haha! Just squidding! In retrospect, that pretty much sums me up right there… I once did a phone interview for local radio while booth running at our local comic con, didn’t know the interview was live to air, and ended up apologizing to our hometown for shattering the carefully crafted facade that I’m not a complete ass.

Aside from that, I’m just a photo-bombing bro from a rodeo family that hails from Canadian woods. I love to read and write and I’ve fallen completely head-over-heels for the comic book/ graphic novel medium. So I dove in head-first and founded Red Rage Comics with Scott Dewey, and we’ve taken a chance on being part of the comics industry. And it’s working out! The first graphic novel we made is called “The Tasting.” It was a Kickstarter baby and now it’s a convention trail veteran. And I’ve been absolutely blown away by the response we’ve received from the people who let us strong arm our work into their hands with various ‘ehs’ and vague threats involving polar bears, maple syrup, and mukluks! Think about it.

And I don’t know if it’s even remotely close to a correct use of the term Renaissance, but the comic industry seems to be in a birth state, a moment of flux and potential revitalization. A moment where new-found relevance is on the horizon. Like a Renaissance period where beautiful fine art, compelling writing, and experimental story presentations are coming to the fore and reinforming an industry stuffed full of character and production tradition. So it’s a joy and a privilege to be a small part of a growing trend in a wonderfully fun industry!

SFCB: Growing up I always liked to write, but it never really occurred to me to make a living from it, perhaps due to self-consciousness or whatever. At what point did you look at your writings and think "this is what I want to do for a living?"

JESSE JAMES HIGGINS: I’ve always looked at writing that way. I’ve always known that I want to be a writer. However, it took me a long time to get the point where I didn’t let other considerations distract from dream pursuit. I carried this idea - an idea probably informed by a lack of confidence that I could make the write-for-a-living dream real - that I needed to be positioned the exact right way so I could spend the exact right time in the the exact right place to be a successfully productive writer. In fact, I was still in this mindset when Scott and I started Red Rage. I was working a lot and spent spastic and haphazard production time with The Tasting.

Then life took a twist, forced me to account for who I am, and required that I make the conscious decision to value myself and, in all actuality, value myself as worthy and ready to receive fulfillment of my dreams. Dreams I’d carried my entire life but never truly worked toward… Long story short, I went through a divorce. My marriage was troubled and hit the rocks during our first Kickstarter campaign a year ago. My ex and I got separated during the major production phase of The Tasting, failed to reconcile in the middle of the first (and failed) Octospore Kickstarter, and we officially ended our marriage a few weeks before the Octospore relaunch.



I was in a glass cage of emotion. It was heartbreaking. I remember a specific moment when I realized that I didn’t know how to communicate my hopes, concerns, love, dreams to the woman I loved, that we hadn’t received this precious part of each other, and that it no longer mattered. I then realized that I was living for this unfulfilling and safe vision of what life should look like. There was all this possibility, the passion in my heart to create and invest in the world right there, to support my family, foster friendship, impact the world well… doing what I love.

The chance to do the things that set my heart and mind on fire, forever! But there was this antithesis of passion, this pressure from a culture that believes its own fear to be wisdom, praises its own pathetic excuses that promote a denuded life, and, in fact, fosters a lifestyle of avoiding dream pursuit because of it’s own fear of risk and looking stupid in failure. And it took watching my life fall apart, failing painfully and publicly, clutching for everything I’d worked so hard for and poured my life into as it died, before I stood up for myself and chose to risk failure again, more failure, but this time risk pointed in a direction that carried good promises and cultivated the pieces of me that I’ve always hoped would flourish.

(laughs) I wrote a large part of The Tasting in a horse trailer post separation, and here’s a major truth we try to shield ourselves from: a person can fail at what they don’t love too.

Life’s not easy. But every moment we have is a gift. And every day is a chance to LIVE rather than simply be alive…

So I guess I had the ‘writing-is-what-I-want-to-do-for-a-living’ moment a long time ago. What got me into the write-for-a-living saddle was clarity that my ability to write for a living is 100% my decision to make. My responsibility. It’s a risk, but it’s my risk. I’ve also failed way bigger and way more publicly than what I’m risking now. Recently. And I’ve learned how to stand up and keep going even when it hurts so bad you just want to lay down and quit. And there’s no formula. You produce and you put yourself in front of the world and you see what returns to you. And you keep going, you try, and you remember that you have to move into a dream to make it real. Your dream house… If you get it, my friend, they give you keys. And I’m here to tell you that fortune is eager to favor the brave. haha! At least, I think it is…

And here’s my life conviction, the thing that sets my eyes on a writing career: I would rather fail dramatically and to embarrassing extents in the active pursuit of realizing my passions, the chance that my dreams might manifest in my circumstances, than let fear keep me from running the race that I love and writing the stories that delight my heart.

SFCB: You have your own comic book company called "Red Rage Comics" which you founded with Scott Dewey. Talk about how you connected with Scott and how you came to create your own comic book company.

JESSE JAMES HIGGINS: Scott and I connected at our day job. We were working in a group home that cared for two brain injured men. The one man was obsessed with ‘The Price is Right’ and only got upset if you interrupted his TV watching routine (or if you made him soup for lunch three days in a row). The other man in the house was very volatile and needed constant attention. And we worked 12 hour shifts. So, if working with the man who watched TV, you needed to occupy your time. So I would write and Scott would bring his sketchbook.

One day I asked Scott to see his sketchbook, he showed me what he’d been working on, and a light bulb went off. I told him, “We’re going to make a graphic novel!” I’d never considered making a comic or a graphic novel before that moment. But I blurted out that sentence. Scott’s incredible art compelled me. So I showed him some of my writing and he said, “Okay.” And now, a year later, we’ve learned some industry lessons, learned some business, become good friends, and we’re turning a corner where we’re able to do what we love full time. It’s amazing!

SFCB: Over the past decade we've seen a lot of different products take a jump from physical to digital, such as music and movies as well as books/comics. I've talked with people who like it and who can't stand that things are moving away from a "physical world", so to speak. What are your thoughts on the idea of books and comics going digital?

JESSE JAMES HIGGINS: Digital is great from a producer stand point. A one time cost of production and a 24/7 delivery system that allows a customer instant assessment and instant gratification. However, having read books and comics both ‘physically’ and digitally, I love holding the book in my hands. I got fascinated about reading by watching my Dad read books. It makes me a little sad to see him transition to digital reading.

Printed books are dirtier, more of a physical experience than digital - digital is so clean, so hospital - and I like that physicality. I can make notes in my books, mark them up, fold the pages. Drop them on the ground and it really doesn’t matter. But who knows… I just read ‘American Gods’ on my computer and didn’t have to find it a shelf. And the book was just as magnificent. Gaiman, you wizard. Plus I’m really terrible at making PDFs of our books… haha! I broke people’s technology the first time I sent a digital copy of The Tasting to their inboxes post Kickstarter fulfillment… My goodness, I can see the transition. Myself though, I’m not 100% ready for it.

SFCB: With the introduction of things going digital, there is, of course, the issue of piracy. While there are always going to be the naysayers and doom and gloomers who talk about how piracy spells the death of creativity and whatnot, I am not sure that it's really a black and white issue. For every argument against, I've seen rational and valid arguments for how piracy can, in some circumstances, help. But at the end of the day, the creators definitely need to be compensated for their work, and all the entitled whiners have to understand that. As someone that has done their fair share of downloading over the years, yet has more or less moved on to buying things now, I understand that desire and the pull of all this stuff online that's just there waiting to be clicked and downloaded. How do you feel about the digital piracy issue as it relates to the comics world, and have you had an issue with that so far?




JESSE JAMES HIGGINS: We’ve had minor issues with piracy. Here’s my opinion: it’s always nice to get paid. However, if the Red Rage Kingdom is in such a weak position that a few pirates can destroy it, then the Red Rage Kingdom is on its way out… Simple. And, to be honest, I see a major flip side: what if a pirate takes our work, becomes a fan, lands some windfall money, and turns into a Red Rage Comics patron? We plan to persist so we want our audience to grow, no matter how the growth occurs.

So no, it isn’t black and white. It’s simple economics. If we’re doing work that’s worthwhile, more exposure should lead to better economics, no matter if all exposure to our work happens legally.

There is, however, one thing that grinds my gears… People who take other artist’s work, put their own signature on it, and sell it as if they did the work… Don’t do that, friends… That’s so ugly! I’ve seen that on the convention trail. I caught somebody presenting the work of another artist at a convention as if it was their own. Was even signing prints of the other artist’s work when sales were made. Gross! Tried to justify it to me, as well. Tried to tell me that an exact rip-off - EXACT DOWN TO THE PHOTOSHOP RENDERED PEN SPLATS - of a digital artist I follow was in fact an original made with oil… haha! Nope. That’s the line for me. Take our work, eat it, share it. But if you take and present my work, please make sure you point it back to me… That helps me make more stuff you can pirate at a later date.

SFCB: As you travel around to the various Cons to meet the fans and the various cosplayers, talk about your experiences with that, and how it's been being able to connect with your readers.

JESSE JAMES HIGGINS: I love conventions! I’m a salesman. Again, I grew up in a rodeo family, so I watched horse trading growing up. And now I love jumping through salesman hoops to get our work in people’s hands. And I love it because I love what we’re doing. I believe in the merit of our projects and I’m excited for people to have them. So conventions… people walk right up to our book and art displays!!! Hallelujah! It’s like indie producer Heaven. I feel so comfortable in that place. I love it.

And the convention stories. Oh my goodness, the stories… Con bathrooms are like no other place on earth. I’ve seen Master Chief fall into a toilet and get helped out by a fellow Spartan. I’ve had my foot pissed on. I’ve talked a Nigri super fan out of a one-stall-over-from-me spiritual collapse after crapping his pants right before a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet her. I’ve peed beside Batman. I’ve peed with Batman to my left and the Joker to my right. I had a heartfelt moment with a Guardians fan who almost forgot his Rocket tail in my stall after a desperate cosplay strip down one-stall-over… We spoke about good people being left in the world. But seriously cosplayers, you need to start designing costumes in consideration of #1 and #2! It happens. Even to the best of us.

#TeamRedRage vs. Undead Du
And cosplayers… I love cosplay! It’s so damn cool! I’ve even been considering cosplaying after so many weekends spent on the convention floor. It seems empowering. And, in fact, we think it’s so damn cool that we’re starting to work with cosplayers in our projects. For instance, Ms. Undead Du, our fellow Canadian, has been an absolute gem to work with. We’ve partnered with her for Octospore and we’re hoping to push a story called ‘Undead Du vs the Octopocalypse’ through the production budget window as a Kickstarter stretch goal. Du’s a complete professional and a genuine nerd girl! She collects comics, knows all anime, and will kick your butt at every video game. Find her: facebook.com/UndeadDu and instagram.com/UndeadDu!

Here’s a rant: guys, seriously, stop directing all this ‘fake nerd girl’ hate at the women of cosplay. The women of cosplay are a huge benefit to our community. And think of it this way: at the very worst there’s a women dressed up as a character from your favorite show, favorite game, favorite comic, who might not know as much about the character as you do… Start a conversation! But don’t hate. Nerd girls deserve our geeky respect!

And lets not discount our cosplay men. Some of the costumes I’ve seen, like a perfect rendition of Iron Man, wow. Respect. Our cosplay men and women are crafting an art form! They’re artists!!! The craftsmanship and dedication that goes into some of the costuming I’ve seen is incredible!!! I hope the cosplay community continues to grow and I hope we’re able to help foster that growth. Truth.

SFCB: So you have once again dipped your feet into the crowdsourcing world with your newest kickstarter for your book "The Octospore Book 1", which recently passed the goal with another few weeks to go. Talk about your experiences with Kickstarter, and how it's helped you with your projects.

JESSE JAMES HIGGINS: Simply put, I don’t know if Red Rage exists without a successful Kickstarter. More so even than the funding we received to produce The Tasting was the feeling of validation we got from a successful campaign. We saw people believe in us. We saw people hope for our success. We saw people want a piece of what we were doing at the very outset of our journey. Affirmation, my friend. It helps marriages and art producers!

It’s also a chance to intimately connect with fans in the context of a project. That’s huge! We have a worldwide audience of people who are excited for what we’re doing and want the next thing that we do… Incredible! We’re from a small town in Alberta. We’ve sent book to Australia, Russia, Mexico, England, Dubai… What a gift! Patronage is a real thing again because of platforms like Kickstarter! And it helps us flourish…

I have nothing but good to say about Kickstarter. It’s a huge opportunity for indie people like us. I’ve also seen some of our favorite established artists produce their passion projects with Kickstarter money. Cooler Coolers are cool. I love potato salad. I mean, look at Octospore. It gets to get born. And we get to keep doing what we love.

And we’ll definitely seek funding through the Kickstarter platform for upcoming projects. Absolutely. Done! BOOM!!!

WOOHOOO!!!! OUR BABY GOT FUNDED!!!! THANK YOU!!!!

SFCB: I appreciate your time today, Jesse. Before you go, I'll let you have the final word. (Note: this you can use to tease upcoming projects, or shout out the fans or whatever you want).

JESSE JAMES HIGGINS: Appreciation. That’s the final word. We have so many people in our thus-far journey that deserve so much ‘thank you.’ It’s astounding. And you! Good Sir, thank you for your continued support! You have no idea what to expect in you Octospore Kickstarter reward envelope… No idea… Squiddy doom…

Team Squid, tell everyone: Red Rage Comics is turning Octospore into a big, far reaching project. Octo… 8… Think about it. And this little squid keeps on getting bigger and better!!! Jump on board the octo-train now! Start ‘Say No to Squid’ protests in your streets… We’ll help with the logistics. And above all else, join the Kickstarter fun! Get your official Team Squid clubhouse membership!!! You won’t regret it! (Or you might - your choice!!!)

And keep in touch with Red Rage Comics. We’re starting a beautiful project in December that has us working with some incredible cosplayers. I can’t say more right now… Just check out facebook.com/RedRageComics and get in our kitchen!


The One With The Octopocalypse!



Last year I helped kickstart a graphic novel called "The Tasting" by the folks over at Red Rage Comics, Jesse James Higgins, and Scott Dewey.  Their book is a fantastic visual feast, with the beautifully macabre gothic artwork, and the way the text was laid out on the page.  You can check some of those images by clicking here.

This year they have a new project out, this one called "Octospore Book 1: Suburban Squid"

Now it's refreshing to have something other than your standard Zombie fare, as everything seems to be about zombies these days. Every now and then you'll find a creative take on the zombie genre, such as the UK series "In The Flesh", but for the most part you get less In The Flesh and more Z Nation.

This story, is on it's face, kinda fucked up to be clear.  Allow me to let Jesse & Scott explain the story for you:

Octospore Book One: Suburban Squid began when Jesse and Scott started watching "River Monsters" during Red Rage Comics work breaks. Already terrified of sharks, etc, Jesse and Scott found their water phobia increasing exponentially. Jesse was then sent a Youtube video by a friend. This video was a clip ripped from a BBC documentary about Cordyceps, a terrifying fungus that mind controls ants in the Amazon Jungle, forces them to climb, then grows out of the back of the ant's head like a freaky tentacle... Thus, Jesse and Scott immediately began fashioning the Octopocalypse when challenged to create a new take on the zombie apocalypse, a nightmare vision born of Youtube and Netflix terror.

Book 1 of the Octospore saga chronicles the beginning of the Octopocalypse as madman, Octavius Du Pont, gives rise to the End Times Squid. He adapts a human strain of Cordyceps and releases the virus at a massive cosplay contest. The Octopocalypse then spreads like wildfire into an unsuspecting and unprepared American suburbia. One moment neighborhoods are white picket fences, happy laughter, and bar-b-que smells. The next moment neighbors disappear in squiddy explosions and the survivors are overwhelmed by the danger and stress of unthinkable disaster.

Octospore Book 1: Suburban Squid is an experimental graphic novel from Jesse James Higgins and Scott Dewey that explores human communication within a disaster scenario. Sometimes funny, more times tragic, the Octopocalypse provides a living window into the vagaries of being human and the indomitable spirit that keeps people whole even when their worlds fall to pieces. 

Now I'm not typically into horror stories, as that just doesn't do much for me, however I admit to being fascinated by the concept they've given us and am intrigued and interested in reading this and seeing how things work out.

Something to keep in mind, as well.  If you pledge at least the digital level of $8, you not only get the digital copy of Book 1 but you ALSO get the digital copies of Books 2-8 as well for free as they are released, thus giving you the complete series for the price of one.

Also something to bear in mind is that you are supporting independent media.  These are not folks that are backed by the massive money of Marvel or DC, or even an indie company like Dark Horse or Image.  These guys have set up their own comic company, Red Rage Comics, and are doing all this themselves.  And with the help of those who are supporting them via the Kickstarter.

Just because they have made their goal, does not mean that the pledges are no longer needed.  There's so many hidden costs behind Kickstarters and creating your own project, that every dollar counts, and often a goal listed is not how much it costs to do the project, it's a lower goal designed to at least get the bare minimum required to at least put out a project.

If you like supporting indie media, and if you are intrigued by this project like I am, consider supporting!

In the coming week I will be posting up separate interviews for Jesse James Higgins, the writer of Octospore Book 1 and Scott Dewey, the artist behind the project.  Stay tuned!





Sep 21, 2014

[REVIEW] "Genius" Issues 1-5


 RATING: 9/10 CHET BAKERS

I had originally written out a completely different opening to this review.  I was making references to some movies, and the idea of being forced into a fight that you probably didn't want, but in the interest of self-preservation, it was quickly deemed necessary.

It was garbage.  It was a safe way of saying what I REALLY wanted to say, without actually crossing over into territory that some might find offensive, and that after thinking about it, I'm going to say, because I think the review I'm doing necessitates it and anything less would be insulting and disingenuous.  It would fly in the face of the bravery of the creators of this art.

I'm going to talk about some things in this review that some people may not like.  There will be things said that some people may take offense to, probably more than anything else I've written.  And to that, I say that's okay.  There comes a time when it's simply impossible to be politically correct about what needs to be said.

Now with that out of the way, allow me to begin.

MORE AFTER THE BREAK

[REVIEW] Jimmy Dore - "Your Country Is Just Not That Into You"



It's very easy to look out across the media landscape at the way our political system works and be discouraged.  It seems that unless you are a member of the very rich in this country, that the country doesn't necessarily work for you, it works against you.   And this is pretty much across the board thanks to those in power who, rather than working for the people who ostensibly got them elected, they work for the lobbyists and big money donors who actually got them elected.

Funny how that works, eh?

I first started getting involved with following politics sometime after 9/11, and I mean the actual 9/11, not the Republican's wet dream that they WANT to be.  Now this wasn't in the sense of like Dennis Miller who was really funny and entertaining to listen to until 9/11 and then he got angry and his entire body and soul knee-jerked to the right, and now he's unbearable to listen to for more than a few seconds.  It was more a situation where I had been homeless for the most part for the 5 years prior to 2001, and I was just coming around to getting set up in my own apartment, and getting a computer and internet access and actually following what was going on.

Growing up I tended to be in my own little world where I only really focused on things that interested me.  I'd constantly read the USA Today and would only read the sports and lifestyle sections for the most part.  Now I'm a bit wiser (I'd like to think) and I don't read the USA Today.  So there's that.

But as I started focusing more on politics and reading about what was going on, and seeing what was going on, it kind of made me pine for the days when I was blissfully naive, and willfully ignorant.  Because then I didn't know about Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin and Andrea Tantaros (who I swear just has this constant look on her face that makes her the most unpleasant person to look at, and it's appropriate because it matches her rhetoric), and Rush Limbaugh and all of those people.

I didn't really know about how this country is bought and paid for, not by the hardworking individuals, or the soldiers who risk everything to defend us, but by the rich and powerful.  And I don't know if you know this or not, but the rich and powerful's interests do not often align with the lower/middle class.  It's true.

In 2008 I voted for the first time in a Presidential Election and I voted for Barack Obama.  I was living in Ohio at the time, as I had spent about a year living there near my parents, both who lean more Republican.  While I did not necessarily have glossed over eyes and this dreamy look in my eyes at the President the way some did, I voted for him because I DID think he would at least try to do a lot of what he promised.  Some he's done, some he hasn't.  I'm not super thrilled with him, but I'm not going into that here, because I've already written about that plenty, which you can read here or here

I voted for him because McCain was a decidedly worse candidate and would have put us in untold number of wars, as he seems to have never met an altercation he didn't think could be solved with bombs and troops.   And then there's the whole Sarah Palin aspect.  Nuff said.

By 2012 I was for the most part done with the President due to a variety of things (again, click those links if you care to read about it) and since I was now living in a decidedly blue state like Washington State, I could vote my conscience instead of voting to elect the guy I hated the least.   And so in 2012 I voted for Jill Stein of the Green Party.  

I knew she would not win, because of how our system is set up to only truly give time and attention to the Republicans and Democrats, but since I lived in a state that would never go to Romney under any circumstances, I could afford to do that.  In 2008 living in Ohio, not so much.

So over the last 13 years I've gotten more and more interested in politics and getting more entrenched with the muck and the negativity and the bullshit, and it left me with a thought that brings me to the topic of this review.

My country doesn't give a shit about me.  Those in power do not give one red fuck about me, as someone who does not have money to give them that they would notice.  As someone who is decidedly in the lower class, those in power pay lip service to us (at best) and then keep it moving to do what their donors want.

They do not give a fuck about us.

Or to put it more politely and appropriately, "Your Country Is Just Not That Into You".

That is the title to comedian Jimmy Dore's new book, and I don't think there is a more appropriate title.

I picked this up on Amazon recently, and I find it a very intriguing read.  If you've followed Jimmy Dore at all, whether on his own show which is podcasted on iTunes, or his appearances on The Young Turks program, or if you follow his Twitter account, then you no doubt have heard some of the points before.  You're not going to pick this book up and be like "WHAT?  How DARE he say these things?" because you know what you're gonna get for the most part.

 

There are aspects in here that are elements of his show, such as the "phone interviews" with political pundits like Bill O'Reilly, John Boener, Luke Russert, Peter King and others, as well as his cutting wit and sharp insight when it comes to his political takes.   Whether it's he will eviscerate, disembowel or annihilate (h/t to Huffington Post, Mediaite and Salon for the great verb suggestions!) the various politicos for selling us out in favor of their corporate overlords, or calling out someone like Luke Russert who only has his job because of who his father was, Jimmy is always fighting for the little guy.

And we definitely need that.   Dore recalls some of the other comics who spoke truth to power, such as George Carlin or Bill Hicks, or more recently someone like Lee Camp.  People who use their platform to reach out and try to educate the masses about what is going on in our country and how things are not going the way they should.

I picked this up and figured I would read it in a day or so, and yet it has taken much longer than that.  This isn't a breezy read, at least not for me.  There's a lot packed into this thing, and it's a lot of things that you need to really absorb and think about what he's telling you, and what he's explaining.  These are serious issues that are presented in a comical way, however there is still that serious edge to it.

Which is what good Satire is supposed to be.

There are a lot of interesting things you'll come across in the book, and I made sure to highlight them in the ebook so I could go back later and quote them for this review.  My memory sucks and I'd end up reading the book a second time just to find those quotes.  Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

So in the Introduction Jimmy talks about where he grew up, on the South Side of Chicago.  Here's a helluva gut punch, for me, because I recognized that with so many people I grew up around in Virginia.

"The part of town I grew up in voted for the Democrats for teh better part of a century, until the first African-American Democratic candidate for mayor appeared on the ticket. Suddenly my part of town realized they were actually Republicans.

They were the people who had worked all day in physically demanding jobs they hated.  After work, they'd stop at the bar to down a six pack while complaining about minorities and then go home to watch re-runs of Archie Bunker...and laugh for all the wrong reasons. They didn't understand that they were spuposed to be laughing at Archie Bunker, not with him."

I read that and was just like, wow.  I knew exactly what he meant, because I had grown up around that very thing.   It's a sad fucking thing, but it's real.  It's like those that laugh at the Dave Chappelle Show sketches, not realizing it's assholes like THEM that he's making fun of.

Later in the book Jimmy talks about the trick that the conservatives pull when they throw out the "Liberal Media" nonsense.  The media is not liberal at all.  There may be some individuals that are liberals, but for anyone to act like we have this great monolithic liberal media, is either ill informed, or willfully lying.  My bet is it's mostly the latter, with some smattering of the former.

Jimmy wrote the following about this, and why it's being pushed that we have a "Liberal Media", by those on the right.

"Claiming the media is liberal serves the Right in two ways:

First, it paints the Right as victims. Which ... yuck.  The sight of White rich men preserving the dominant paradigm claiming they are victims is really gross.

Second, it casts doubt on pretty much all reporting that goes against the Conservative agenda. So, if the Washington Post publishes a series of articles that expose, let's say, a Presidential conspiracy to commit felonies, well, it can be dismissed by party faithful as a typical Liberal hatchet job."

And there you have it. They don't do it because it's true (which it's not true) but they do it because it allows them to play the victim and dismiss everything that is said.  It's why your crazy racist uncle refuses to believe anything that comes from a website that doesn't have at least three commenters using the N-Word.  Because it's "biased."  Whereas Foxnation, Drudge Report and Breitbart, are sent down by the Baby Jesus himself.

Obviously.

These are just two of the many intriguing observations and facts that you'll get reading this book, which I encourage everyone to do. If you are tired of those in power screwing you over, consider buying this book, reading through it and educating yourself on the tactics that they use against you.  Therefore you will be more wise to their fuckery, and will know to recognize it and combat it.

Because we absolutely have to fight back in a responsible and intelligent manner.






Sep 7, 2014

[REVIEW] "Super" Issue #1 by Joshua Crowthers (@Crognus)



In a previous review of the new comic series "Solitary" I mentioned that I tend to only kickstarter Graphic Novels that are completed, and I would receive the whole story at once.  Due to my child like level of patience, I find it frustrating waiting to find out what happens next.  Chalk it up to the society we live in that everything is available on demand.

I mentioned that I backed Solitary even though that was the 1st issue of a forthcoming series, because I liked the storyline that was presented and was intrigued by it.  Likewise, I found myself backing another comic, this one called "Super", this one kickstarting issue #2, and once again I found myself intrigued by the story idea.

In "Super", a new comic series by Joshua Crowther's Utah based indie comic publisher' "Jay Crow Comics", it's basically about what happens when regular people with powers, decide to get involved in real world political situations.   Think: Drone strikes, terrorist attacks, etc.

These aren't world renowned super heroes, these aren't colorful cape wearing people that are from other planets, or are mutated, these are just regular people who happen to have powers that enable them to do things that none of us regular folk could.  What do you do with these powers?  Can you sit by and watch as innocent people in third world countries are decimated, all in the name of politicking?

Imagine you woke up tomorrow and you were invincible.   You could fly, you could do a lot of things that you could only dream of at the moment.  What would you do?  Would you use your powers for good?  For evil?  Rob banks? Get vengeance for all those who pushed you around?  Quit your job, use your powers to make money?  And say you use your powers to intervene in international political situations: How would the government respond to you?  Consider you a threat, perhaps? 

It's an interesting question, especially when you throw in the "greater good" notion, that you can't just sit by and do nothing when so many people are dying and you potentially have the power to save them.  That's the quandary that one of the main characters, Mark, finds himself in in the 1st issue of Super.

The 1st issue basically covers two stories.  One in present day, and one in the years leading up to present day.  In the present day the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Colbert is a man who is dealing with family troubles, and a mysterious sighting somewhere that was picked up by one of the American Satellites.

The other story is leading up to that where two friends, Mark and Jordan, talk about whether or not they should get involved in helping those that needed it in the country of Surran.  One thing that I found distracting, although it seems many comics do this, is when the comic writers will mask the names of real life places, and companies and even sports teams.

Brandon Perlow's excellent "The Rock Thrower" did that with the baseball teams, altering the names of teams such as The New York Yankees to the "Jankees".  Super does that with Surran (I assume by the references to their leaders potentially using nerve gas on them, that Surran is Syria), and their leader Al Saed (Assad?).

I don't pretend to understand the need for a lot of these comics to do this, although it was explained to me that due to those being copyrighted, that you had to alter it a bit.  To ME, anyway, that makes no sense, as I don't see the government going after a comic book for using the title "CIA" to refer to people who worked in the CIA, but then again...it's not my ass on the line if someone steps over the bounds of legalities, so...yeah.

Other than that, the comic is pretty damn good.  Some of the writing I thought was a tad bit cliche, mainly with the conversation between Colbert and his estranged wife, but it wasn't bad or anything like that.  At a certain point I suppose all dialogue along those lines are going to feel familiar, especially if you've gone through something of that nature.  Or you've seen countless romantic dramas in your lifetime.  Not...that I would...be watching those types of movies, of course it's all raunchy comedies and balls to the wall action for me, folks! *guilty look away*

I'm not qualified to debate the artwork, as I'm not an artist, so I won't.  I will say the art was perfectly fine, and enjoyable to look at.  I've seen some comics where the art is just horrible, or it didn't really fit the story, if that makes sense.  This was perfectly suitable to the story being told.



I'm very interested to see where this story goes, and a specific scene at the end really kinda hit me, as it was one of those things I had never thought of.  Perhaps the downside to a despondent super hero that is invincible. 

I encourage everyone to support this Kickstarter.  Anyone that pledges at least a $1 gets access to the updates, which will give you a free copy of Issue #1 in PDF format, so you can read it on your tablet, or phone, or you can read it on your PC/Mac computer.





Sep 6, 2014

The One Where Jezebel Cares About (White) Women

As everyone knows by now some assholes leaked the naked selfies and other images of various female celebrities on 4chan, and they then spread to the cesspool of the internet's humanity known as Reddit where they are still up today.

I'm not here to justify or denigrate that whole thing, as plenty has been said on that.  However I would like to point out something that is painfully obvious to many, yet not being pointed out enough.

Jezebel is a "Feminist" site that is under the Gawker umbrella.  Which means that being under the Gawker Umbrella it's gonna have a whole lot of fuckery mixed in with the occasional decent piece about women's rights.

The recent "Labor Day Leak" or whatever you want to call it has exposed Jezebel as being, not a site for "Feminism" to defend and stand up for women's rights and privacy and self respect and self worth.  It's actually a site for "Feminists" to defend and stand up for White women's rights and privacy and self respect and self worth.

Think that is a tad bit harsh?  Maybe out of line?  Okay.  Ask yourself this?  How much did they (and other Gawker related sites) report on Jennifer Lawrence's nudes and how her privacy was violated, and how horrible these assholes were who did this to her?  How it was never okay to do this and she was violated and women should never be shamed for being sexual or taking their own naked pictures?

Quite a bit, and justifiably so.

How many posts did Jezebel, that great bastion of "Feminism", do about Jill Scott, who also had her nudes hacked and released?   *crickets*

Here let me illustrate this for you.

First is an image that I just took moments ago of the search results on Jezebel's website for "Jennifer Lawrence Nudes"


There.  Now there's several posts there, and that doesn't factor in the posts on Deadspin, Gawker, Gizmodo, etc, etc, of which there were a few, including many telling everyone that while it was utterly disgusting what those perverts were doing, if you wanna see the picture, click here and see the Reddit thread "The Fappening" so you can see all the naked pictures you want, that we're in the process of telling you how horrible it was.

Now, here's the results for "Jill Scott Nudes".  See if you can notice the difference.

 
 Well, will you look at that?  Multiple articles on White Princess Jennifer Lawrence, no results (regarding the hack) regarding African American singer Jill Scott.  Hmmm.  I wonder why that is.  Is it Jill's noticeable lack of Whiteness?  Is it her plus size figure, that isn't as easy to "Fap to" for a lot of these misogynistic creeps?

Whatever the reason, perhaps Jezebel should stop acting like it's a "Feminist" site for all women, and just basically call it like it is.  It's the Fox News of Feminism.  It doesn't represent everyone, only those that look their audience.

Sep 5, 2014

The Laughter That Masks The Pain





As most everyone knows by now, Robin Williams passed away recently.  I wanted to write something at the time, but I couldn't.  Oh I could have forced some words out and just phoned it in, so to speak, but I didn't want to do that.  The subject matter was too important and while I don't have any illusions about my writing changing the world or anything, I felt that I had to at least allow a little time to process it all.  

However this piece is not exactly about Robin Williams, perse, and more about the problems that many people face on a daily basis with depression, which is something that Robin dealt with, unbeknownst to many of us.

First a little backstory.  I deal with issues including depression, anxiety and others of that nature.  It's something that has been there inside me for as long as I can remember.  I'm about as socially awkward as one can be, and I found myself realizing a few years back that I don't know how to deal with people.  I can't relate to other people because growing up my anxiety and whatnot prevented me from really going out and making a lot of friends and socializing.  I had some friends and I would hang out with them a bit, but I never viewed myself as being on even terms with them. I was always the extra, in my mind, someone that was just sort of allowed to be there, but having not "earned" the right to be there. 

And yes I realize now how stupid that sounds.

So as difficult as it is to acknowledge, I'm very immature in that specific way.  And I don't mean immature like a 5 year old, but more to the point that when I'm around other people in a social setting, I don't know how to talk to people.  I don't know how to interact, how to relate how to just be a normal person.  Think the character of "Dexter Morgan" on the Showtime series Dexter, just without all the serial killer aspects.

I have a lot of empathy for people, but just in social interaction, I'm seriously lacking.  And so I tend to just stay to myself for the most part, as I pretty much have done my entire life.  Thank God for the internet, eh?  I can interact with people online, because I know that.  I don't have to have someone in close proximity, and so I can relax and just be myself, rather than overcompensate and awkwardness ensue.

So due to all of that, I've spent a large portion of my life dealing with depression and self-consciousness and self worth issues.  I often had people tell me how smart I was, or how nice I was or how good I could write, and my immediate reaction, I mean my impulse reaction was to dismiss it. "Oh they're just saying that."  "Oh you're just being nice" or, in my head, I would imagine they were pitying me, or this was some prank where they'd get me to feel great, and then just dump on me.  I would never allow that, so I would never accept when people would give me compliments.

Because that's not how I saw myself. 

A lot of people have these defects in them as it relates to how we see ourselves.  It's like everyone else will see us for exactly who we are, good or bad, and we will not. It's like we're looking in funhouse mirrors where we are all distorted and our defects are on full display, magnified.  Everyone else, sees us normally.  So when they say "You're a funny person" or "you're really great", we think (or at least I would think) that they're just throwing some pity compliments my way.

And because of this I would have these negative depression related thoughts about how terrible I was, and how unattractive, and how much of a really just shitty person I was, but not just that, but how everyone else's lives were worse because I was in them.  It's a really fucked up mentality, I will acknowledge, however it's a very real thing, that someone who does not go through that cannot ever begin to comprehend.

In order to stave off these thoughts of depression and suicide, I would often drown my sorrows or whatever, in television and books and movies.   There was a cable channel that would show standup comedy a lot.  They'd have entire blocks of just 5 minutes from various comedians all across the country, and that was where I came to know comics like Jon Stewart, Marc Maron, Janeane Garafalo, Louie Anderson and Bob Zany, to name just a few. 

And watching these would make me laugh, and it would take my mind off all of the negative bullshit that was poisoning my mind.  It would let me escape from the negativity and allow me to just not worry about all that mess.  Same thing with books or movies, I just wanted to take my mind off the other stuff, because I didn't want to give in to the dangerous thoughts that would enter my brain.

There have been three comedians (that I am aware of) that I loved to watch and listen to when I was younger, that have gone on to commit suicide after being unable to deal with their demons.  Those are Ray Combs, Richard Jeni and now Robin Williams.  There may have been more, and some maybe just killed themselves with drugs like Lenny Bruce or Mitch Hedberg (note: Hedberg also had a heart defect, but also was listed as having 'drug toxicity' in his system), to get away from the demons, we'll never know.

When former Family Feud host Ray Combs, who was my favorite game show host, died, I was 21.  That death did not hit me extra hard, if only because he had been going through a lot of painful shit for awhile.  He had lost his slot hosting Family Feud, his acting career did not take off like he had hoped and he had a devastating accident in which he was almost killed. Coupled with his divorce, while his death was still tragic and so unfortunate, it was not one that snuck up on you, if you had followed his career.

 

You knew there were problems, you knew that things seemed to be piling up, so when it came out that he had killed himself, I was pretty upset, but at the same time I understood.   As someone that deals with depression and this shit inside me, I understood all too much how easy it is to just give in.

At the time, I think I kinda realized the concept of comedians using laughter to conceal pain, but I don't know if I genuinely grasped it on anything other than a superficial level.  As I got older, I began to realize that a bit more and I think it endeared them to me more than ever.  Because for the first time I could relate to someone.

Although I used comedy to conceal the pain that I dealt with growing up, for whatever reason I just never really consciously acknowledged it.  I dealt with bullies as a kid, as many have.  I don't know that my experiences were any worse than anyone else', however I have the benefit of hindsight now.  At the time it was horrible and I constantly wanted to do anything but go to school and face these tormentors.  That's why I tended to lose myself in books or in comedy.  I enjoyed hearing jokes and I knew how that made me feel, so I figured maybe if I made others feel that way, then I could be popular and they would stop hurting me.

You know what?  It worked, in a way.  I mean there would always be a few that would continue to make my life a living hell, but it worked with enough people that I was no longer a loner with no one to take up for me.  I had others who I was friends with.  And if you have people you're friends with, it sort of lessens the chances of random people coming up to harass you, if there are others there who might take up for you.

At least that was the way I kind of saw it, your miles may vary I suppose.  Some of those people, looking back, I think were genuinely my friends, people who once they got to know me and I got to know them, we honestly enjoyed the company of each other.  Others simply used me for whatever.  And I was fine with that, honestly I was.  If it kept me from loneliness and the depression and suicidal thoughts of my mind, coupled with the random assholes that seemingly wanted to drive me to eat a bullet, then I was all for it.  My self respect/self-worth was not really at a point where I felt like I was betraying it.

As I said, that's the way I kind of saw it.

And that's how I also viewed these comics that I had grown to love listened to and watching.  They saved me from focusing on the negativity and the bad thoughts.  Ironic seeing as how telling those jokes allowed them to perhaps escape from their own negativity and bad thoughts.  I didn't understand that at the time though.

In 2007 on March 10th, 5 days before my birthday, Richard Jeni was found dead of a self inflicted gun shot wound.  I absolutely adored Richard Jeni.  I had all of his HBO and Showtime specials on VHS, I'd watch anytime he was on some talk show or late night show, I would watch any movie that had him in it.

The fact that more people don't know who he was is stunning to me and it hurts.  I wish more people did.  I show his clips to friends when they come over and I'm going through Youtube clips.

 

His standup was just the best.  He was so talented, so gifted, so good at what he did, and his demons got the better of him and he couldn't handle it.  This was, I think, when I first fully grasped the dangers of the disease that he and I shared.  I had had therapists or counselors talk to me about depression and "dangerous thoughts" as they put it, but it was something that was intangible to me.  It was something I dealt with personally, however I had always dealt with it the only way I knew how.  Just stuff it back down as best as I could.  Also I had never known a life without it, so it just seemed...a part of me. 

Jeni's suicide made it tangible.

When he committed suicide, that hit me like a freight train.  I was devastated and could not stop crying.  I was 32 when he died, and it came out of nowhere. I just woke up one day and heard on the news and I just lost it.  People I've mentioned this too don't understand when I say how much I loved Richard Jeni.  He wasn't a big star (not nearly what he should have been), but he was well known if you followed comedy.  He was well respected in his field, he was much beloved.  Most people would probably recognize him from his role in The Mask as Jim Carrey's best buddy/co-worker, Charlie Shumaker at the Bank they worked at.

I followed everything Jeni did comedy wise when I was younger, I watched all of his comedy specials over and over and over, at one time probably knowing every single word, every joke, every beat, every everything to his HBO show Platypus Man which came out when I was 18.   In 1997 I became homeless, and remained homeless until 2001.  I had actually taken some of his standup, recorded the audio off of TV onto a cassette recorder and had them on tapes.  I would listen to them, along with some hip hop mixtapes that I owned, at night when I was trying to just segregate myself from everyone and everything.

 I was obsessed with his comedy, and I don't understand why really.  Maybe something in me recognized something in him.  Maybe the fucked up part of me recognized that fucked up part of him that eventually emerged and took him over.  I don't know, but I do know that his death hit me harder than any person in my actual life, except for someone special I lost in a car accident.

These comedians like Richard Jeni, Robin Williams, Bob Zany, Louie Anderson, Sinbad, Bill Cosby, etc, with someone like me growing up, and being depressed and anxiety ridden and socially withdrawn, these guys and others were what helped keep me at least somewhat positive, if only for those few minutes of their sets, or the few hours of whatever movie they were in.
They helped me focus, not on the demons swirling around me inside my mind, but on their innate talent in making others laugh, often by us laughing at them.  And it never occurred to me until years later when Jeni took his life, that another way they were just like me, is that often they masked their pain with telling jokes and making other people feel better.  Yet they couldn't make themselves feel better. Kind of like our own personal Muse, that could help everyone else, but not themselves.

When Robin Williams died recently, there were a flood of social media comments from people who clearly had never experienced depression or suicidal thoughts or anything of this variety.  These blessed people would spew their ignorance about what depression is and is not, and what it does or does not do to someone.   They exposed their lack of knowledge about how in control people who suffer from depression are with these feelings.

A common refrain, and one I've heard all my life as it relates to suicide, is "how selfish." and/or "What a coward."

When I see people writing things of that nature, I'm immediately filled with A. anger and rage and wanting to lash out and try to inform these blissfully ignorant individuals and B. a stunning lack of knowledge as to what to write.  I mean, I find myself at a loss as to how to explain to people what one goes through.

The moments in which, no matter how successful you are, no matter how wonderful your life may be, no matter how many people you have in your life that love you and treasure their moments with you, that you are incapable of seeing that. How do I explain the extremely dark moments in my life in which I literally came close to killing myself, but didn't.  Not because I suddenly realized how lucky I had it compared to others, not because I had suddenly become awash in loving feelings, or any of that, but because I was, in my mind, too much of a coward to do it.

People who say that suicide is a coward's way out, is someone that has never dealt with suicidal tendencies or ideations.  They're people who have no goddamn clue what they are talking about.  People who talk about how selfish they are, and whatnot, don't quite understand the mentality of someone dealing with depression, they don't understand the thought process.  It doesn't work that way.  They are thinking things through their own view and expecting people to react the way THEY do.

But their brain is not working against them the way it does with those of us, so for them to try to act like they know what's best and they know what depressed people go through is insulting and frustrating.

Robin Williams' is a prime example of the idea that it strikes people of all walks of life.  Robin Williams seemingly had everything within his grasp.  He was a world renowned, much beloved comic actor who had achieved damn near everything one could achieve.  He had crossed over into a much successful dramatic acting career, complete with an Academy Award for his brilliant role in Good Will Hunting.

He had a loving wife, children, legion of fans, unfathomable success, and he was still struck down by these demons of depression.  Depression, much like Cancer, is non-discriminatory.  It will strike at anyone, and it's not their fault.  The idea that someone needs to just "man up" or "get out and do something" is incredibly ignorant and hurtful to those who deal with it on a regular basis.

Instead of being told that they're stupid, or lazy or whatever, people who are dealing with depression need to be given help.  They need to have someone to talk to, they need someone to understand what they are dealing with, and to be made to understand that they do not have to deal with it alone.

Sadly, even with all the assistance at someone's fingertips, the pull of the depression can be too much, and we are left some truly fantastic individuals. 

If you, or someone you know is dealing with Depression or suicidal thoughts, please reach out and seek help.   You often hear people talk about how they have no friends, they have no one that truly cares about them or who would miss them.  Yet you then see at their funerals, a packed house, you see the outpouring of grief online, and realize just how truly beloved those people were.

If only they could have seen it as well.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, PLEASE click the following image and go to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline Website, where you can get connected with someone that can help.

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/