Friday, August 24, 2012

The bullies and the bullied

While researching for a planned novel the other day, I had to do a quick google search on school shootings. I was looking for more recent ones, but one of the country's earliest was the one that caught my eye.
It happened in 1978 in Michigan. A Nazi sympathizer, taunted by his classmates for his beliefs, brought a gun to his school and shot two of his tormentors, wounding one and killing the other.

These days, school shootings are more common than ever. Every time a shooting makes the news, we hear about how the shooter was bullied and tormented until they couldn't take anymore and lashed out at their tormentors. But when I read about this particular shooting, the first thing I thought was, "Who on earth would pick on a Nazi supporter? Isn't that sort of like poking a sleeping bear?"

Except cute little bears like this one. You can poke them all you like. (source)

But these are different times. 1978 was only about 30 years after Hitler's regime ended. I'm no historian, but I'd be willing to bet that we know a lot more about Nazis now than we did back then.
For the past several nights, my dad has been watching documentaries about "Hitler's Secret Life" or "Secrets From Hitler's Death Camps." Information about Naziism and World War II concentration camps that supposedly wasn't widespread before. Perhaps these kids were simply doing what bullies do -- taunting a lonely kid for having different beliefs. They couldn't have realized the atrocities Nazi sympathizers were capable of.

Interestingly, this school shooting scenario is the reverse of what we see/hear today. We usually hear about poor, innocent kids who were picked on for being loners, for their taste in music or movies, for being scrawny, self-conscious, or socially awkward. Who was worse in this situation: The kids who bullied someone, or the kid who sympathized with a political party known for carrying out atrocious, inhumane acts? Or were they really in the dark

Sunday, August 19, 2012

This is some scary stuff, yo

When I was a little kid, I was scared to death of ALF. You know, the crazy looking alien creature from the 1980's sitcom of the same name? Yeah, scared the mess out of me. There's a video of me when I was about two; we were at my aunt and uncle's house, and I specifically avoided the area under their staircase because of an ALF doll. Even if it wasn't on video, I have an older cousin who will never let me live that down.

Sounds pretty crazy once you get older, but little kids often have some pretty crazy fears. I was also afraid of zombies, Darth Vader, and cats.

Yep, this little guy was right up there with dead people who wanted to eat my brains. (source)

Everyone is afraid of something. Fear can be a great asset; if you're afraid of the creepy guy following you into a dark alley, that fear will let you know to be alert and maybe, you know, get the hell out of that alley. Sometimes it can cause problems; lots of people are fearful of anyone or anything unfamiliar to them, hence the universal and timeless problem of prejudice. And sometimes, fear is a problem because we just don't know what to be afraid of. We all know to be afraid of Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, who we know how to identify and (to a certain degree) defeat. But for every Freddy Krueger in the world, there is a Ted Bundy -- the danger we often don't realize is dangerous until it's too late.

A few months ago, I was watching one of those "What Would You Do?" shows. You know, the ones where hidden cameras capture actors faking inappropriate and potentially dangerous situations and see how people react. This episode involved bike theft, but as done by three different people. The first two not-thieves were men -- one black, one white. People reacted harshly, and several called the police. The third was a pretty blonde girl, and few people reacted negatively at all. Many of the men ogled her and even encouraged her -- all while their furious wives called the police. The implication being, of course, that if you're an attractive white female, people assume you can do no wrong. And this assuming and stereotyping can be dangerous.

Sadly, we live in an age where nobody can be trusted. But your instincts are your most powerful tool. If you think something isn't right, take the appropriate measures to right it. And if you think something is okay...well, you should still be cautious. After all, the scariest monsters are the ones we don't even know we should be afraid of.

Wow, that was rather depressing. Here's another picture of Adam Levine.

Maybe in my next depressing post, I'll add in some shots of Robert Schwartzman and Joe Jonas. Admit it -- you'd rather look at them than the kitten.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Can we talk about 50 Shades of Grey for a second?

For the past year or so, everyone who is anyone has been hearing about 50 Shades of Grey. Its mere publication is the ultimate success story with a twist -- based on a Twilight fan fiction and altered slightly for mass publication, the trilogy has gotten massive mainstream success, even leading to more fan fiction publishing deals. I haven't said much about the series, either online or off, because...well, up to this point, it just didn't interest me that much. I have no interest in reading erotica, and I heard the books themselves were pretty bad anyway. But whatever, no big deal. Bad is subjective, and there will always be books getting published that some (or even a lot) of people think are bad. There are also movies and TV shows and certain blonde country singers who I don't think are very good at what they do either. But clearly someone disagrees with me, because a lot of them do pretty well.

But do they do better than Harry Potter? No.

The big news in publishing today is that the 50 Shades of Grey books have outsold Harry Potter on the British Amazon website. Yes, that's the same Harry Potter series that has seven books, not three. The same Harry Potter series that has won the hearts of millions of fans of all ages around the world. The same Harry Potter that has spawned movies, action figures, and even an entire theme park. And it has been outsold by...50 Shades of Grey.

Just a few clarifications here: 1.) I actually liked Twilight. It was by no means perfect, but I refuse to jump on the "I hate Twilight" bandwagon and tune it out just because I feel that I should. 2.) I also have no problem with writers turning works of fan fiction into original stories for publication. I've done it myself in the past -- though the characters and story did eventually take on lives of their own, leaving no trace of any sort of fan fiction to anyone who hadn't read the original story. And 3.) While I have no intentions of reading 50 Shades myself, I'm not an elitist who looks down on anyone who has read it -- or anyone who enjoyed it. Obviously a lot of people do, or it wouldn't be as popular as it is. 

But what's the verdict here? Do writers have a right to be upset that a book they deem "bad" has been embraced by the mainstream? Or should they accept that the public wants something they aren't willing to give? Is the publishing industry -- and the music industry and movie industry and the TV industry -- really going downhill, or should we embrace anything that is popular because it clearly did something right if people liked it? Will the criticism that these fan-fictions-turned-original-works are getting eventually discourage authors, or will they continue to get six figure deals for their tales of Edward and Bella's BDSM romps?

And hey, at least the cover is kind of cool.

And so the questions continue.