Friday, 22 December 2017

Doctor Who Spoilers

They've killed my Doctor.

I have been a fan of the British TV show Doctor Who for most of my life.  The title character of the Doctor is an alien from the planet Gallifrey.  One of his race's most well known attributes is the ability to "regenerate", which heals the body from grievous injuries with the side effect of changing the outward appearance.  (This conveniently allows the lead actor to change every few years without otherwise disrupting the show's continuity.)

Since the beginning of the series the Doctor has been a man.  His appearance, perceptions, and general attitudes have been undeniably male.  He has neither wanted to nor even mentioned that he had the capability of changing gender (in the classic series 1963-1996 at least).  Despite their regenerative abilities, it appeared that gender was hard-wired into Gallifreyan DNA.

The idea of Gallifreyans being able to change gender was floated in the past.  In fact, Sydney Newman, the co-creator of the show, suggested that a way to bolster flagging ratings in the 1980s was to put forth a female Doctor.  While Newman's vision didn't come to pass, writer Neil Gaiman and producer Stephen Moffat were open to it.

That resulted in a throwaway line in the 2011 episode The Doctor's Wife.  Near the beginning of the episode the Eleventh Doctor receives a communication from an old friend of his known as The Corsair:  "Fantastic bloke. He had that snake as a tattoo in every regeneration.  Didn't feel like himself unless he had the tattoo.  Or herself, a couple of times.  Ooh, she was a bad girl."

The fans' reaction was swift.  Blogger Sarah Pinault wrote in 2012:
" me, in my heart of hearts, this is not only utter nonsense, but is heresy! ... Unlike Jadzia Dax in Star Trek: DS9, who is a joined Trill, Time Lords are not symbiotic beings as the Trill are.  Time Lords have a definitive sex, though I'm sure that the frequent regenerations could leave some of them with gender issues as a result of tremendous life experience, and the confusion of regeneration itself."  She goes on to give evidence from throughout the series that stereotypes of gender exist for Gallifreyans.

Why Doctor Who can Cross Time and Space but Can Never Be a Woman

But as if the implication wasn't enough, the show went one step further during the 2015 episode "Hell Bent".  The Twelfth Doctor tasers a Gallifreyan general, who then regenerates from a male body into a female body.  Afterwards the general expresses relief at the change because she preferred the female form.

Doctor Who fans have long endured the uncertainty of each regeneration, but the concept of the Doctor regenerating into the opposite gender was practically verboten.  When the rumours began swirling about the next actor to play the Doctor following Peter Capaldi's departure, I went into denial.  I unfollowed everything that was related to Doctor Who; any details that managed to filter through I could hopefully dismiss until I saw the "regeneration episode" with my own eyes.

Eventually however, with so many web sites and vloggers talking about the upcoming changes to the series, I had to accept the inevitable.  And I hated it.  They'd killed him.  A character whom I had followed and loved for over 30 years had been rewritten to serve as a gimmick, a surrender to political correctness.  I felt bereft, as if I had lost a dear friend, and I have no doubt that many fans of the show feel the same way.

I find myself thinking of Beverly Crusher's words at the end of the Star Trek: TNG episode "The Host", after the symbiont of her male Trill lover has been tranferred to a female body.  "Perhaps it is a human failing; but we are not accustomed to these kinds of changes.  I can't keep up.  How long will you have this host?  What would the next one be?  I can't live with that kind of uncertainty.  Perhaps, someday, our ability to love won't be so limited."  Time will tell if this changed Doctor will still resonate with fans.

Already there are signs indicating that the show might be falling apart.  The BBC announced that Series 11 will be shortened to 10 episodes instead of the usual 12 or 13.  Plus it won't even begin until at least the autumn of 2018.

I doubt the Doctor's past selves would be happy with any of it.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

More Jingles

I wrote a post last year about my favourite commercials from the 1970s and 1980s, many of which contained jingles that had stuck in my mind because they were catchy.  The frenetic pace of TV and online advertising today coupled with an ever-shortening attention span doesn't often allow the use of memorable images or tunes.

Listed here are some more influential and beloved commercials.

"Where's the Beef?" (1984)

Wendy's restaurants, facing huge competition from McDonalds and Burger King among others, created this commercial which claimed their burgers contained the most beef.  The ad had at least two sequels: one with the protagonist phoning the manager, and the other where the ladies were driving around town to various restaurants demanding an answer.

"California Raisins" (1986)

This claymation commercial (and its successors) was produced by Vinton Studios of Portland Oregon.  Advertising writer Seth Werner initially came up with the idea of dancing and singing raisins as a joke, but the commercial ended up becoming highly popular.

"Deal with the Devil" (1982)

For decades people have wondered how chocolate maker Cadbury has gotten the caramel inside the chocolate pockets of its Caramilk bar.  The mystery has inspired several commercials over the years but the one remembered best seems to be one where two businessmen try to pay the Devil to give the secret to them.

"Archaeological Discovery" (1985)

The 1980s were at the height of the soft-drink wars, none more bitter than between Coca-Cola and Pepsi.  This commercial features the insinuation that in the distant future there will only be one company left standing.

"He Likes It!" (1972)

This masterpiece by Life Cereal features two brothers who refuse to try a new cereal and move the bowl in front of their younger brother Mikey who "hates everything", only to be surprised when Mikey likes it.  The commercial remained in rotation for 12 years and won several awards.  In the mid-1980s there were sequels featuring the same actor who had played "Mikey" - now grown up.

"Budweiser Frogs" (1995)

Originally aired during the 1995 Super Bowl, this commercial eventually became considered as one of the best Super Bowl advertisements in history.  It inspired several parodies as well as a popular computer screen saver.  The director Gore Verbinski later went on to direct the first three Pirates of the Carribbean movies.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Community Comparisons

During the fall I took a walk one evening, just after sunset, to decompress and take in the sights and sounds of the neighbourhood.  It's not often that I do this, having my attention usually taken up by chores and preparing for the next day.

The flickering blue light of a television emanated from one window.  From another, the distressed cry of a baby.  Further down the street there was the sound of a car door closing accompanied by a jangling of keys as a young couple arrived from a shopping trip.  Another car passed by with loud music blaring from its windows.  Somewhere in the distance a dog was barking.  Other sounds were blurred by the ever-present low drone of traffic from the boulevard a few blocks away.

As I noticed the moon rising over the roof of a triplex at the end of the street, I mentally pictured myself standing in the street in front of my parents' house, facing in the same direction.

The house is on my right.  The neighbour to the east has two kayaks resting in the back yard.  Across the street is the large fenced yard of another neighbour, where two children race happily about in the twilight.  Behind me, a dog's collar jingles as the animal trots beside its master as they walk.  It's quiet enough to hear crickets in the gardens, as well the occasional chirp of a chipmunk or bird.  No sound of traffic here, only the rare thrum of a passing train on the rail line or of a ship navigating the river.

It's clear why I feel more relaxed when I'm there.  Rural communities tend to be less hectic and more closely knit than city suburbs.  The trouble is, most such areas are farther away from services and a vehicle is a requirement - something we currently lack.

The town where I grew up is a mixture of the two.  It's considered part of the "urban community" and has bus service, waste removal, and police patrols.  However the fire station is volunteer, and the majority of the houses have septic systems instead of being hooked to a municipal sewer.  Lots are large with many trees, giving a rural feel to the area.  Wildlife is abundant: songbirds, squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons with the occasional skunk and fox.

Within the next year, we might be taking the large step of moving from the two-bedroom condo that we currently live in to our own house.  It will be a challenge to determine what kind of house is suitable for us, and what kind of community will meet our needs.

Bel Kaufman wrote, "Let it be a challenge to you."

That it will be.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Mental Stability in an Insane World

Several months ago I was following the trial of a young man who walked into a grocery store in 2016 and killed a female clerk.  The defense had played the "mentally unstable" card, saying that the man had suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and believed that the girl and her friends were plotting to kill him.  When he entered the store he thought that the girl had a gun in her pocket, which prompted him to take a pre-emptive strike.

Most times it's the job of the defense to come up with a plausible scenario that fits the available evidence without directly incriminating the accused.  However I had a great deal of difficulty believing this particular story.  The man barely knew any of the girls involved; he only came up with his explanation after reading some anonymous messages on social media.  The truth of the matter is probably that he was enraged that she turned him down when he asked her out on a date a few days prior.

I have stated many times that I dislike the "mentally unfit" defense ploy in court.  When someone is declared as such they don't go to jail at first, but are usually detained in a medical facility where they are "treated".  When they are deemed to be "cured" - or rather, mentally fit to stand trial - then they face a court, and more often than not receive a lesser sentence than they otherwise might have had.  The fact remains that regardless of their mental state, they still committed a crime and should be punished appropriately.

Yes, I concede that mental illness can affect anyone and can drive people to actions that they wouldn't think about under normal circumstances.  But pointing at it as being the root cause of a heinous crime goes too far.  Most intelligent people should know right from wrong, unless they have been purposely taught otherwise or "brainwashed".

Social media should share the blame as well.  Many people and organizations use it to disseminate falsehoods and extremism that will be taken as truth by those who are mentally vulnerable.  All one needs to do to see this is to glance at any controversial topic and there will be comments from people whose viewpoints are so off base as to be ridiculous.

In recent months I've had so much to deal with in my personal life that I rarely watch the news or follow social media discussions unless something directly pertains to my situation.  There is just too much hypocrisy, stupidity, and violence in the world for one person to fathom.

It's little wonder that society is slowly going insane.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Lack of Communication

Dinner time at our home usually proceeds this way: I place the meal on the table and call out "Dinner!" and there's no response.  I often have to repeat the call, followed up by "It's getting cold!" in order to get people to tear themselves away from their devices and come to the table.  Conversation tends to be limited to which bosses have been beaten, their in-game accomplishments, or how other players have robbed them of opportunities.  Questions like "How was your day?" or "Did you learn anything new?" are met with "meh" or silence.  After the meal everyone rushes back to whatever game/video/activity they were involved in, leaving me to do the cleanup.

I'm certain this scenario is common in many households.

People hardly speak to each other these days.  I mean, actually talk.  Most communications now occur in the form of emails, status messages, and 140 character statements - all of which can be easily misinterpreted if the right words aren't used.

Compounding the issue, particularly in public, is the ugly spectre of harrassment.  Men are reluctant to say anything for fear of being misunderstood or thought of as creepy.  Women are careful about what they say for fear of saying something that a man might construe as her leading him on, or worse, insulting him.

Certain subjects are now taboo or thought of as "triggers" for those who have experienced trauma of some sort or have controversial opinions.  There were several people I knew who would become extremely loud, judgmental, and even racist during any conversation about politics or immigration.

It doesn't stop there.

Good communication goes hand in hand with learning.  To learn something one must be able to discuss ideas coherently.  Sadly there are those who refuse to do so because it conflicts with their own pre-conceived notions, and they resort to attacking anyone who tries to present them with a different point of view.

A comment on a recent David Gerrold rant about the views of the extreme right in the U.S. reads: "We are in the midst of a crisis, and the Constitution and our democratic system of government is under attack.  It's clear that day by day they become bolder and less concerned about hiding their perfidy, their treasonous acts against the American people.  They clothe themselves in religion and false doctrine, sow doubt and fear, attack the free press and the 1st and 4th Amendments, stack the courts, obstruct all progress."

Think about how much better the world would be if more people stopped hiding behind a screen (of any kind) and just talked to each other.  About anything.  Who knows, they might actually learn something.