Escape to Skyrim

skyrim

When my children were little, their father and I played video games with them. Hours racing each other in Mario Kart brought us together as a family like nothing else did. We weren’t the adventurous outdoor family like those today that take their kids hiking and biking, etc. No, we were indoor folk. We watched television, read books, saw films, and wrote in our journals. And despite all the indoor activities, my kids are all grown, healthy, and happy.

Last Christmas, my son visited and got me interested once again in video games. I bought a Playstation 3 and some used games and started my adventures all over again. I must say I enjoy them now more than I did even then. Gaming has come a LONG way since the 1990s and Turok, Dinosaur Hunter.  Most of them now feel like I’ve inserted myself into a movie.  Take Skyrim for example. I love this game. It is a huge open world that is beautiful to look at and fun to explore. I’ve started three games so far with different characters and abilities and even though the quests are the same, there is always something new and different to experience as each character.

I’m sure that my husband can’t possibly mind. While I’m in the other room slaying frost spiders and necromancers, he’s busy talking on Skype to one of his ‘friends’. I’m at the point now where it’s good that he has others to keep him busy so I can play in peace. Sounds cold perhaps? Not as cold as shunning a wife who was willing to give him everything and was rejected for fetish talk and long distance relationships. I’ll stick to Dragon Age, Skyrim, and Fallout 4, thank you very much.

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Of Top Models, Glee, and Face Off

Cover Girl (film)

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With most new television seasons beginning in February, there isn’t much for us TV junkies to watch until then. My vows to read more fall by the wayside however, when on a day off I get hooked on America’s Top Model. The over the top theatrics of Tyra Banks and the very bizarre yet all too common phenomenon of outrageously campy gay men telling women how to walk, model, and wear clothes were not good selling points for me, but I’m always a sucker for people trying to make it in whatever industry they choose. Most of the time these things are about chance “talents” pertaining to one’s looks or how one moves. It was fascinating to see how the industry can transform an ordinary girl into a “high fashion” model. What all this has to do with fashion (and I use that term loosely) and how this is supposed to sell clothes is beyond me. You might as well leave the clothes on a hanger. But it was either watch this or watch a women-murdered-of-the-week show. The male gaze is always evident in these shows; from birth (toddlers and tiaras and their gay male trainers) to death.

Still I have nothing against programs that are competitive in this way, as long as it’s NOT about singing. There are way too many singing shows on television. Many, many people can carry a tune and sing well, but that’s not what these types of shows are looking for. They are looking for stand-out looks and star quality. They try to make the audience the casting director and at the same time humiliates them and us while doing it. Yes, American Idol, I’m talking about you.  Why anyone would want to tune in to Simon Cowell’s degrading remarks and boorish behavior is beyond me. But what about those programs that aren’t competition? Take Glee for instance. There is absolutely nothing interesting about this show (exception Jane Lynch). It doesn’t resemble real life at all but that’s not the point. This program and High School Musical are about selling music, again and again, and providing a forum for making social statements about gay teen boys and harassment they go through. Worthy, yes, but when will we see teen lesbians and what they go through? Again, it’s still a male gazed culture. These shows and others that feature music as background material are merely trying to sell new music and music long thought dead. They know that teens watching these programs will go out and buy just about anything. Blame WB and it’s stable of shows like Dawson’s Creek, Supernatural, The Gilmore Girls and for this phenomenon.

UPDATE: My daughter made me watch a marathon of Glee that she recorded on the DVR and ok, I have to admit, there’s something compelling about it. The singing’s good. But perhaps my grudging respect has got to do with the football jock, Puck, who falls for the tough fat chick.  That swayed me. smile.

They are also increasingly product placement commercials since most with DVRs zoom past commercials inserted every 5 minutes. America’s Top Model is all about Cover Girl cosmetics. Project Runway is all about L’Oreal and Garnier hair products. Top Chef features appliances and cars.  Survivor is about Dorritos, soft drinks, and bathroom products. You don’t even have to have a plot driven show any longer as long as you have products inserted. In a way, this is far more preferable than the inane commercials we are inundated with every 5 minutes. But what does that mean for programming? Why would we rather watch this stuff, even with all the commercials interwoven with the action? Are we really such voyeurs of humiliation?  Or, are we sheep doing exactly what we are led to do?

A new show that I started watching, uncorrupted yet by product placement, is the SyFy Channel’s Face Off. No doubt they are waiting for popularity polls to pick up to begin placing major products, but for now, they are product free.  Up and coming make up artists face challenges in the traditional Top Chef format of a 15 minute challenge and a bigger competition in the remaining hour.  One in particular was fascinating. Contestants had to paint a nude human into a giant photo backdrop. The judges were top make up artists in Hollywood and the host is a Westmore, of the great movie make up Westmore dynasty.  What’s also fascinating about this show is realizing that this, and other shows, is where all the nerds you knew in high school went. Every make up artist has an ear lobe plug, every Project Runway contestant dresses bizarrely it seems but a more universal truth is evident among all these shows; human beings come in two sizes; selfless/friendly and selfish/hateful. There doesn’t seem to be any in-between.  Of course we are only shown what producers want us to see, but I have a feeling it’s not far from the truth about these people. (You can’t tell me that Camille Grammar isn’t exactly as she’s portrayed on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills!) Still, Face Off shows promise, which means it will be promptly ruined by something. Count on it.

But this kind of television is junk food. There are two classifications of entertainment; High brow and Low brow. It works for literature, movies, television, anything pop culture throws at us. And what makes something “high brow” or “low brow?” Why the audience of course. Depending on which programs you watch, which books you read, where you get your news, you are classed into a particular category. It’s been going on for centuries, even before television came on the horizon.  It also shows itself in politics.  The great unwashed masses are supposed to sit back and let the elite run the show. To rebel against that is to make a few people very, very nervous. They tell us what we like, what we should eat, what we should wear, how to take a vacation and where, which politics and social issues are important, you name it, they tell us about it. And you are supposed to LEARN what they want you to learn from it, all while spending money. If you are going to sit in front of the television and insist on being “inactive,” they are going to push shows like Heavy, Biggest Loser, I Was a Fat Teenager, and the like, all intermingled with diet and exercise equipment commercials. The housewife with small children at home is supposed to learn from WE, OWN, Lifetime Channel, and ABC’s Hallmark Channel, and TLC that you need to stay indoors and take care of your children because to go out of these safe zones will result in parasites, stalkers, murderous boyfriends, missing children, etc.  That’s the purpose of television after all; to tell you what to think, how to live, and who to hate, as well as to fill us with fear of the big wide world. Looked at as an occasional snack, television is amusing and relieves boredom. But a steady diet of it will fill you with nothing but “empty emotional calories” and will probably just make you angry. Are we going to let them get away with that?

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The Walking Dead– Me included

The Walking Dead

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Ok, so, fresh back from a wine tasting tour of Hermann, MO, I have contracted some respiratory thing and am coughing and spewing massive gross things. Like you needed to know that. Bleck. Married life is fine, however, life and all the ordinaries go on. The weather has turned snowy and colder and television is just the ticket. What have I been watching in Mad Men‘s stead? How about a nice zombie series with lots of gore and violence? I’m talking about AMC’s The Walking Dead.  For me, watching the first episode is like reading the first chapter of a book. You can tell a lot from that. And the first episode of this TV serial is very, very good. However, that’s the last I was interested in this series, although I watched all of the episodes.  (Hey there wasn’t anything else on!) In this case the first episode was not a herald of more to come.

The opening episode is all kinds of good. It has the wonderful surreal feeling of 28 Days, when the lead character wakes up in a hospital with no one around. The feeling of not being aware of your surroundings, having been in a coma, and missing out on one of the biggest events in human history; the zombification of everyone but a few has to be the greatest way to start a show like this! Andrew Lincoln plays Rick Grimes, a sheriff who is in a coma from a gunshot wound he sustained in a car chase during his normal life. He wakes up weeks later and the world has changed. He is bewildered and cannot take it all in. He encounters his first zombies and does what we would all do, defend himself by instinct. He’s not sure what to think! We have great questions thrown at us about the humanity of seeing our loved ones become zombies and how we would react to that. Rick meets up with a man and a boy who, unfortunately, we never see again. But that too seems like how things would really go in this instance. Compelling television here.

The greatest scene in this whole series is the one where Rick encounters a half “dead” zombie crawling through a park. The zombie woman is driven by the extremely harsh need to eat human flesh; a drive so strong that she is crawling by pulling herself along, grasping the earth and grass with her hands and we see she has no bottom half of her body. All “she” it wants is to eat.  She tries and tries to chase Rick but can’t. He runs on, but toward the end of the episode, when he’s found his house, met other people, and formed a plan for finding his own wife and sone, he goes back to the park, finds the zombie woman still crawling, and performs a supreme act of human kindness. Brilliant.

That’s as good as this series gets. Somewhere in the second half of the second episode the show turns into just another Stephen King, end of the world, ensemble cast. The only standout is Steven Yeun who plays Glenn and probably Michael Rooker who plays Merle. Stereotypical characters abound and we even see some of the same people who have turned up in King’s televised works, like Jeffrey DeMunn and Laurie Holden. This is no surprise since the creator/producer is Frank Darabont; a King devotee and partner in serialized graphic novels, television series, and books.  It’s SO Stephen King that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that “Frank Darabont” is another alter ego of King’s. King seems to have a lot of them. But alas, Darabont is a real person!

King’s influence on Darabont abounds however. King’s decline as the KING of horror began, I’m sad to say somewhere in the 90s after publishing Bag of Bones his last really good novel. But that’s a whole other post. King has become clichéd and never more so than this series as a supreme example. If you’ve seen “The Langolliers” and “The Mist” you’ve seen The Walking Dead. All are fine stories but suffer from one-dimensional characters and horribly overdone stereotypical behaviors. It appears that Darabont can only deal in the same stereotypes that King thrives on; the religious fanatic, the abused and/or adulterous wife, the alpha male, the child, the longsuffering wife,  the wise older gentlemen, the loose cannon, racist, etc. You name it, it’s all in there and I could have written the screenplay from Episode 2 onward, it was that predictable.  I wish that the quality of the first episode could have been carried on into the rest of the series. As it stands now, I don’t care to see any more, especially anymore of the awful acting by Sarah Wayne Callies. Puh-lease!

I’d give the first episode a watch though, but know this going in… episode one is the best it’s going to get. Read the graphic novel instead!

Sister Wives or Sister Rivals?

TLC (TV channel)

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I’ve been watching the new TLC show Sister Wives and I must say, on the surface, things look really great. Who wouldn’t want to have three moms raising twelve kids and sharing responsibilities? But all you have to do is watch the present wives being interviewed while their husband goes “courting” another woman and you know there will be trouble. All of them were raised in polygamous lifestyles so they know the ins and outs of it all, yet when the new wife claims that their husband is her soul mate and another wife says she feels like she’s losing her best friend, one wonders the wisdom of all this. Who’s serving who here? The man claims he gives each wife what she needs, but where is the unique relationship with one spouse that knows you so intimately all the while claiming that he knows three other women just as intimately? I also think that these women are somewhat in stages of denial, not to mention Mr. Brown, to each other and to themselves, but they are so busy they don’t question it. Or do they? The episode on tonight was full of tears and jealousy, something they believe they need to fight to overcome. But I wonder, to what end? To populate the polygamous movement. However, it’s hard not to like these people. they seem genuinely in love with each other. Fascinating.

Unsurprisingly, this guy is in trouble with the authorities in Utah. Why in the world would you go on TV and invite scrutiny if you knew you were doing something illegal?

Of Mad Men and Conspiracy Theories

I watch entirely too much television. How do I know this? Because I can’t seem to read enough books that I want to that’s how I know. I have stacks and stacks of books in my place and haven’t read half of them. So, some television shows have to go to make more reading time. It is indeed a hypnotic box that keeps us transfixed in front of it for no good reason. However, that said, I cannot give up good quality TV no matter what beckons me and there are only 24 hours in a day and 7 of those I spend sleeping and 8 working. So what am I watching and what have I given up? Let’s list those I’ve given up first:

Survivor: I’ve watched this show since it started. This is what… the 17th season? Unreal. I mean, how different can each season be? You watch ruthless people win through lying and manipulation and you watch the others lose because they weren’t willing to compromise their principles or friendships for $1,000,000. It’s the same thing over and over. What the losers don’t seem to realize is that it’s just a game and if you don’t play by the rules of the game, you’ll lose. You’d think someone would be learning this by now. The last straw was watching this season’s premier. Every season they seem to want to find the most unlikeable characters they can so people will watch who they LOVE to hate. I was sitting there listening to the latest blowhard talk about how smart he was and how dumb all the women were and how easily manipulated and I said, enough is enough. Here’s one woman who’s not falling for that again. End of story. I haven’t watched it since.

Lost: Like The X-Files, I thought I would watch this to the end; because I like Science Fiction and because I like mysteries. However, the mistake I made in watching the X-Files to the end was assuming that Chris Carter would give us some answers. Instead, I don’t think he knew any of the answers and just strung us along and made things up as he went along. However it was vastly entertaining and each episode pretty much stood on it’s own. Lost however grew tiresome very quickly. After watching two seasons, I wasn’t willing to take this trip any longer. I am convinced J.J. Abrams has no idea where this show is going or where it went in the last couple of seasons. He did an EXCELLENT job on the last Star Trek movie!! However, Lost is no longer on my list of “must see TV.”

The Mentalist: (Tuesday nights at 9 p.m.) I gave this show a whole season because I like the lead character played by Simon Barker. He’s amusing. But I can’t seem to work up any liking for Robin Tunney’s character. The plots aren’t compelling enough; not that they have to feature murders and gore. Mad Men supplies none of that and delivers the goods week after week. It’s just not substantive enough for me.

Shows that I continue to watch:

The Amazing Race: (Sunday nights at 7 p.m.) This is a fun show that uses my favorite game format: a scavenger hunt. The values promoted are worthy; play dirty and it usually comes back to bite you in the end. Take your time and read the clues and you’ll be fine. Rush too quickly and sloppily and something’s going to go awry. Plus you get to learn a little bit of history and see some cities along the way. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego for grown-ups.

Ghost Hunters: (Wednesday nights at 8 p.m.) Do I know it’s probably fake? Sure. But just the fact that there are no psychics on these hunts, that they have “scientific” equipment and that they are trying to debunk evidence and do many times, is enough to keep me watching. Oh and Jason and Grant and Steve are just the type of guys I’d love to hang out with especially while visiting spooky places. What more fun is there?

Supernatural: (Thursday nights at 8 p.m.) Well there are only two reasons why I watch this show at my age: Jenson Ackles and Jared Padalecki. ’nuff said.

The Closer: (Monday nights at 9 p.m.) I love the whole cast of this show. They work well together. However, Kyra Sedgwick’s character can be annoying sometimes and there are moments that even I want to slap her. The plots are standard police procedural and even though the whole premise was ripped off from the UK’s excellent Prime Suspect series starring Helen Mirren, it’s interesting enough to garner a TiVo slot.

Project Runway: (Thursday nights at 9 p.m.) The chief thing going for this show is to see how people can creatively design clothing and make it out of fabric. Fascinating. I can’t create a paper bag, let alone a dress. Oh and let’s not forget Tim Gunn! “Five minutes people!!”

Dancing With the Stars: (Monday and Tuesday nights at 7 & 8 p.m.) The judging is snarky and inconsistent. The stars only have nominal talent sometimes.  So why do I watch? Because I want to do that. I love dancing and seeing someone blossom into a good dancer is fun and rewarding.  The elimination shows are a complete waste of time however. Just post it on the internet already!

My new husband :-)

My new husband 🙂

Mad Men: (Sunday nights at 9 p.m.) Probably THE MOST intelligent show on television right now. This last episode should be Emmy material for next year because the underlying themes are so complex and intertwined and the actors so flawless in their delivery that you actually believe Sterling Cooper ad agency exists out there in an alternate time-line somewhere. Brilliant, brilliant is all I can say.

And speaking of conspiracy theories….Sadly, the books I managed to read recently I can count on one hand: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown is only worth throwing with the other hand. I can only say the ending did not justify the plot or to put it in fictional terms: Did I have to wade through this stupid plot to get to THIS???  Ugh.  Someone let his own positive press over Angels and Demons get to him. Kind of like Book 6 of that other series people are wild about. Mr. Potter or Twilight whose popularity still stuns me as its horribly written and the main character is a stalker let alone a vampire!

On the good side, I read Ruth Rendell’s Adam and Eve and Pinch Me. (I hate it that some books are only available in the UK, like Barbara Erskine’s books. Why?) Anyway, Rendell’s was available, so I picked this up over there and finished it very quickly, which is saying something. Ruth Rendell is always, always a good read. I also did NOT know that Ruth Rendell wrote under the name Barbara Vine, whom I also like. Go figure. Why do people do that? Dean Koontz’s last Odd Thomas book Odd Hours wasn’t as good as some of his others either. I suppose some authors can’t be consistently good. Or maybe it’s just me and my tastes have changed. That’s probably it.  I seem to have less patience with some that are mildly books and more patience with some that makes my brain hurt. Perhaps I get a sense that time is precious and shouldn’t be wasted on such things? Age. Hmmm. Sometimes we have to let go of a few things to make room for others. This is a great time to do some letting go and to hunker down for winter. Gather the acorns, so to speak.

Of Fighting Back and Trigger Warnings

I never understood why feminists put “trigger warnings” on their posts. I mean, I understand the concept and it’s great that they are thinking about how what they post will be percieved by those reading them, but I find the use of images far more triggering than actual words. Take for instance this excellent post about blaming women for fighting back when raped over at Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose blog. It’s a great post about the mixed messages sent to women about keeping one’s mouth shut and not being angry or responsive, either in person or while blogging.

The same men who wonder why women don’t fight back more when raped to prove they actually have been raped are the same men who believe that women should keep their mouths shut on blogs or if not keep their mouths shut, at least “temper” their language to pass as respectable in polite society! In past relationships, I also could never understand why the same men, who didn’t like my ranting in blogs in public or personally in arguments about the merits of feminism, could admire the most vociferous and bitchy of women elsewhere in the blogosphere or in public. I mean what’s that about? It’s as if they were saying to me, “Personally, I’d like you to keep your mouth shut about feminism and how patriarchy kills the soul, but hey did you read that woman over there? She is so cool for voicing her opinion and in such a bitchy way!” What is one supposed to think of that? My brand of “bitching” wasn’t cool enough to merit admiration? It was unbecoming for me, but pretty cool when someone else does it? Makes no sense.

These mixed messages that we get on a daily basis is not merely annoying at best, but at worst is dangerous when it comes to real life situations in which life, limb, and happiness of soul are on the line.  As a woman who was forced most of her life to keep her mouth shut, I am finally taking the opportunity to make my thoughts known, loudly and sometimes obnoxiously, but as I get older the voices telling me to be quiet and more lady-like are getting more subtle but more insistent. I even find myself critical of other women when I wonder to myself why the women on feminist blogs have to use the word “fuck” all the time in their posts and podcasts and YouTubes. In my mind, men using it in everyday discourse is natural, but women…. that’s another story! I realized my hypocrisy of course, but sometimes I don’t catch myself in time. After all, it’s the same mindset that keeps us from speaking our minds at all, let alone using the words of the male world in a revolutionary way.

But back to triggering. I realized that images were more powerful triggering mechanisms than words for me when I was watching the new A & E program Obsessed last night, which chronicles the OCD symptoms of people seeking therapy to help them control their anxieties and hopefully rid them of their OCD. Most OCDs stem from some traumatic event that the person has not dealt with in a reasonable way.  I realized my propensity toward the same type of obsessive behavior when I watched last night’s episode. A woman who watched her father abuse their pet dog while she was a kid and her inability to protect the poor animal led her to visualize over and over scenes of animal abuse and such visualizing caused her to have horrible wrenching crying episodes. She couldn’t watch television or go anywhere that animals were living or being euthanized, like the animal shelter.

I can understand this completely. My step-father would put our poor kittens in abusive situations and in harm’s way in front of my sister and I just for the sheer fun of watching us be horrified at it! We too could do nothing for the poor things and all my life I can’t stand to see a cat or kitten in need or starving or abused. I too would have obsessive thoughts about kittens being put in a bag and drowned as some in our rural area would do when they didn’t want to take care of them (this rather than getting the cat spayed/neutered!) I would imagine cats being run over or hit by cars. I can’t even watch that commerical about preventing animal cruelty that Sarah McClachlen has done without crying like a baby! I also couldn’t get the thought of a kitten with pneumonia that I found outside my apartment years ago out of my head. The kitten was dying and wanted to sleep on me constantly but I wouldn’t let it for some strange reason and to this day I am haunted by that kitten, whom I didn’t help like I should have. It too had to be euthanized because it was obviously dying and all it wanted was a warm body.  Guilt, guilt, guilt.  It makes me tear up just thinking about it. So last night while this woman sobbed during her Cognitive Behavioral Therapy forcing her to face the animals at the pound, I too sobbed over that poor pneumonia-ridden kitten that I couldn’t help and all other helpless animals out there.  Trigger warning necessary for that???? You betcha!’ But there was none. Of course this still doesn’t explain to me why I can watch horror movies and cinematic violence perpetrated against humans, but can’t watch an animal cruelty advertisement! Warped? Yes.

However, I find the crying over it useful and therapeutic and perhaps the one reason why my obsessive thoughts don’t turn into OCD-like thoughts. I understand the trigger warnings and am grateful others think of them before posting. For me, however, the words aren’t triggering; images are. And in this visual culture, shouldn’t we at least be more careful what we put out there for everyone to see, especially if it’s billed as “reality?” Don’t we have enough of reality already?