3 Tips on How to Read Twilight with a Grain of Salt

Or in other words, how to read a vampire romance which is so stupidly convoluted, so clichéd and so badly written that it spawned the literary herpes that is 50 Shades of Grey.

The sarcastic bitch within me that usually takes over when talking about this particular book series is currently chomping at the bit. There’s nothing she wants more than to rip it apart from cover to cover, and then set the whole thing ablaze.

But, one of my New Year resolutions for 2017 was to try to critique things I dislike in a mature manner. So, here I am being very calm and composed.

You’re welcome.

The Twilight Saga and I have always had a very strained relationship, as one of many long-suffering book nerds who had to put up with the inexplicable hype during the height of its popularity. I’m sure that I don’t need to remind you that between 2005 and 2013, Edward and Bella’s “love story” had become a world-wide obsession of young and older women alike. My mother loved it, her friends loved it, my friends loved it and my classmates couldn’t get enough of arguing about ‘Team Edward’ and ‘Team Jacob’. To my horror, there was absolutely no escaping it.

While it can be argued that any book that encourages children and teenagers to read is a good thing, I certainly beg to differ. A book’s quality should never be judged by how many people have read it, but by the content the books provide. This is something I can’t stress enough when it comes to a series as popular as The Twilight Saga. It’s exactly like junk-food; just because it tastes amazing, doesn’t mean it’s actually good for you.

So, after having to re-read the first book in the series for my university course, here are a few tips to keep in mind the next time you delve into the world of sparkly vampires and werewolves that actually aren’t werewolves at all.

1. By all means, relate yourself to the protagonist, but remember that you are a real, three-dimensional personality-Bella is not.

This is especially important for the younger readers to recognise. Bella is an extremely easy character to relate to, reminiscent of the zodiac sign readings you see in newspapers because she is so generalised. Even I can relate to her lack of self-esteem, clumsiness, introverted-ness and inability to see her own self-worth in relation to the people around her. How many teenagers truly feel that way about themselves? They know exactly how Bella feels because she just ‘gets them’.

Growing into adulthood is such a confusing, conflicting time for most teens, so it can be really reassuring when there is a solid absolute to follow- Bella provides exactly that. Just keep in mind that, compared to a whole herd of far better authors, Stephanie Meyer has a terrible habit of writing characters into their archetypes, then simply adding a few quirks and flaws to make it appear as if they are fully fleshed out. Bella is as flat of a personality as the background students of Forks.

You are not Bella. You are very much real.

2. Remember that this is not how a healthy relationship works.

I honestly don’t mind The Twilight Saga’s older demographic, as women between the age of 30 and 60 are perfectly capable of reading the series with a sense of maturity. They are able to compare the events and relationships in the books with their own life experiences, leaving little to no doubt at all that what they are reading shouldn’t be taken literally.

The younger crowd on the other hand! It’s horrifying to me that so many teenage girls (and some guys of course) actually took the morals of this book to heart. I really shouldn’t need to go too deeply into this to make my point. Bella and Edwards’ relationship isn’t just unhealthy- it’s downright abusive.  Bella’s terrible obsession with this incredibly dangerous creature, blinds her to his possessive, manipulative and compulsive personality. Stephanie Meyer tried so hard to write a feminist character that she accidentally rendered Bella just as useless as Lucy Westenra from Dracula. Bella foolishly believes that she has a say in her own future once she entwined it with the vampires. Bella is an object. An object of affection for a vampire who only loves the idea of her youth, feeling compelled to watch her as she sleeps and to constantly stalk her.

Is this really how parents want their kids to be conditioned to think? Should stalking be thought of as a sign of healthy love and devotion? Of course not! Bella is as unreliable of a role model as she is a narrator. This type of behaviour should not be promoted in a positive manner to impressionable adolescents.

When you read this series for yourself, I beg you to keep all of this in mind

3. Treat the Series as a Terribly Written Love Letter to Gothic Romance

This is what it all comes boiling down to. No matter what Stephanie Meyer might say in reference to her inspiration for the series, The Twilight Saga is a fanfiction piece for one of the most enduring, beloved genres in literary history. Gothic Romance is a classic staple of literature. Twilight tries and fails miserably to live up to that standard.

If you honestly enjoy The Twilight Saga and think it is the greatest literary works since Stephen King first learned to type, then by all means, enjoy the heck out of it. All I can ask of you at the end of the day, is to look between the lines and observe the clumsily put together morals and understand that Bella’s point of view should not be taken as reality.

Otherwise, you’ll be just as blinded as she was from the first-page until the last chapter

P.S: One last little tip.

Vodka shots. Vodka shots and a few margaritas will do wonders for your reading experience.

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5 Times Fraggle Rock Forgot It Was A Kids Show

Just about everyone has a TV show they remember fondly from their childhood. I myself have great memories of watching a programme that was very popular in Australia at the time called The Saddle Club. It was innocent enough, about three teenagers sharing their love of riding horses while dealing with the challenges of growing up. Although, there was that particular heart-breaking episode where one of my favourite horses had to be euthanized due to him breaking his leg.

I’ve always suspected that shows especially catered to children are a lot more difficult to write than they may seem at first. There are so many boundaries that can’t be crossed when your main audience is far too young to comprehend certain aspects of life. You generally can’t discuss birth, sex or death unless it’s done symbolically, and the bigger issues in life are left very much alone. But of course, there will always be some exceptions to these unwritten rules of ethics. Some kid’s shows completely ignore status quo altogether, then proceed to set up their own standards.

Are any of us really surprised that a Jim Henson production was one of them? Fraggle Rock was created and produced by adults who wanted to relate to children in a very mature, grown up way. By doing so, Fraggle Rock was able to introduce children to broader, deeper morals, issues and facets of life that the average Saturday morning cartoon simply didn’t have the maturity to do. The following episodes are examples of clever writing, and a sense of boldness to take things a step further that only the Henson team could possess

Listed in episode order of the Fraggle Rock 30th Anniversary edition :

  1. Wembley and the Gorgs (Season 1, Ep 2)

It seems to be Wembley Fraggle who is thrown into the deep-end the most often. Considering he’s easily the youngest and most naïve of the Fraggle Five, I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising. Wembley still has a lot to learn about the world. The fourth and final season of Fraggle Rock seemed to have it out for him the most, but even earlier episodes were determined to throw him curveballs.

Within the first 10 episodes of the first season of the show, Wembley faced the first of many big lessons. During Wembley and the Gorgs, said Gorgs enslaved said Fraggle because he was fooled into thinking that the Gorgs truly appreciated the respect he was showing them. Wembley was just trying to please the Gorgs just as he would any Fraggle, because that is the type of Fraggle he is. Wembley just wants his friends to be happy, especially if they are treating him nicely in return. During the failed daring rescue by the rest of the Fraggle Five, Wembley is forced to find a reason in favour of his friends not getting thumped to death. Luckily, he manages to list all of the best qualities of each Fraggle with the simple conclusion that, “They deserve to live!”

Eventually, the Fraggle Five manage to make their escape. Once safely back in the Rock, Gobo and Wembley close off the episode in their cavern, with Wembley tiredly remarking, “I guess sometimes slavery feels like freedom.”

If this was any other kids show, there would have been a much bigger conflict, a lot more emphasis and an entire monologue about the importance of not blindingly following people who seem to be authority figures, and what it truly means to be free. Is a slave still a slave if they are happy? The answer is probably a big, fat YES! Of course they are!

Just how many shows can you think of that blatantly asks kids such mature questions? I don’t think the concept of slavery masquerading as freedom was even taught to me until I was in Year 11 History. I was 16. Fraggle Rock is supposedly geared towards 6-12 year olds (I say ‘supposedly’ because I can name plenty of adults who still watch it). It is clear, that straight off the bat, Fraggle Rock was determined to live up to Jim Henson’s philosophy of not talking down to, but rather talking to children on their own level.

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Wembley scrambles to find reasons why his friends shouldn’t be thumped.

  1. Marooned (Season 1, Ep 17)

Boober Fraggle is a character most people wouldn’t care to admit they can relate to on a personal level. The main reason for this is because, out of the main Fraggle Five, Boober probably has the most common, and sadly, the most realistic outlook on life. If there is anything Boober is sure of, it’s that death and laundry are utterly unavoidable. There’s no question that Boober is the most adult character, even beating out Gobo’s usually rational mindset. Of course, he wouldn’t be a Fraggle if he didn’t have some kind of quirk, and in Boober’s case, it’s his paranoia, hypochondria and the blatant stubbornness when it comes to leaving his comfort zone. Everything is hopeless. Doom is inevitable.

So you can imagine Boober’s utter chagrin when he is teamed up with the extroverted Red Fraggle in order to go and get his birthday wisdom from The Trash Heap. Marjorie urges him through song to let go of his worries and to just ‘go with the flow’. Boober and Red’s excursion into the Spiral Caverns simply reminds them both that they have nothing in common. Of course, as luck would have it, they come across a Falling Rock zone and end up being tunneled into a collapsed cave. So now, two characters who can barely stand each other, have to keep one another calm and hope that the Greater Forces will assist their friends in rescuing them before their oxygen runs out. It’s not all bad though. Red comes to admit that she is often scared and Boober manages to keep a level head despite his claustrophobia.

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Red admits that she, too, can be vulnerable.

While this scenario is merely a variant of a common TV troupe, the song The Friendship Song’, and the conversation following it, touches upon death in a much deeper tone than most children’s programmes would dare. They seem to recognise that death is imminent, you’ll never know when it could happen and you can only really hope that the people you love will be by your side when it comes about. Dave Goelz and Karen Prell give a very emotional performance, just as touching as it is heart-breaking. Every small movement made by the two Fraggles shows a level of vulnerability that even a great writer like Jerry Juhl would not be able to convey in words.

Red: What do you think it’s like- to die?

Boober: I don’t know Red. I don’t think anybody does.

Happily, everything works out perfectly in the end. The rescue team gets Boober and Red out of the cave just in the nick of time and the two are able to move on with a new appreciation for each other.

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The two trapped Fraggles find comfort in each other as they brace for the worst.

  1. The River of Life (Season 4, Ep 3)

All hail, Boober and Sprocket!

Environmental episodes of any given show always come with the same message- nature is precious and if we don’t do our bit to take care of the world properly, we are all doomed! This message is not the reason why this particular episode has made the list, but rather the intricate, quiet and heart-wrenching way the three ‘worlds’ of Fraggle Rock are shown to be on the brink of devastation. Water from Outer Space is just as important as the radishes from the Gorg’s Garden. Doc’s battle with temptation puts three other species at risk in a ripple-effect that if not corrected, will have devastating consequences.

Luckily for the Rock, there were two unwitting heroes who unknowingly worked in tandem. The first saviour is Sprocket, who, terrified for his friends behind the wall does his best to deter Doc from signing the contract that would lead to complete contamination of the Rock’s water supply. Why would Sprocket care about the money when there are the lives of the creatures he adores at stake? If only Doc could understand that there’s life beyond that hole in the workshop!

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Sprocket does his best to save his Fraggle friends by stalling Doc’s signing of the contract.

Meanwhile, Boober Fraggle, our second hero, is concerned by a strange smell coming from the water. Junior Gorg’s precious radishes have turned rotten after a watering, Ma and Pa are going for a frolic in the creek and the Fraggles are determined to beat the heat with a good swim. To Boober’s horror, he realizes something is terribly wrong and tries to warn his fellow Fraggles before it is too late, but alas, they have already dipped themselves into the pollution. With every Fraggle in the Rock bogged down with a throat rot, Boober is the only one left standing- the only one who can save the day!

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The Fraggles have Throat Rot!

Back in the workshop, after a brief argument, Doc gives Sprocket an ultimatum; if he can prove the existence of life beyond the hole in the wall, Doc won’t sign the contract with the waste disposal company. Sprocket’s begging here was crucial, as it buys Boober more time to come to the same conclusion- let the Silly Creatures know that the Rock is there. After determining this wasn’t the fault of the Gorgs, who else could be at fault?

As this is a Season 4 episode, it is arguable that the time had finally come for Boober to finish off his character arc. Everything he had come to learn about being brave and embracing his fears was now being put to the test. Well, I’m glad to say that Boober came through beautifully, despite his impulses to shove himself into a rock and hope that it all works itself out. With Sprocket still begging and stalling, Boober edges towards the hole in the wall with a plea that Dave Goelz pulls off in one of his greatest performances. The plea is full of pain and sadness from a simple little Fraggle who doesn’t want to die.

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The Plea for Fraggle Rock: Dave Goelz’s most emotional performance on the show.

But this is Fraggle Rock, so of course this all ends happily! Boober comes to the conclusion that the Silly Creatures are mad because Gobo had been ‘stealing’ his Uncle’s postcards, so he gathers them all and places them at the hole in order to return them. This of course, leads to Doc discovering that there may be life behind the wall after all and immediately tears up the contract, much to Sprocket’s joy and relief! Fresh water is flushed into the Rock and the Fraggles (somehow instantly) regain their health and all is right with the universe once more.

  1. Gone, but Not Forgotten (Season 4, Ep 7)

Death is a topic that most kid’s shows will either try to avoid or simply allude to, and if they do decided to breech the topic, it’s done in a much more diluted way. Very few shows are brave enough to tackle it head on. As I mentioned earlier in Marooned, Boober and Red openly discussed death, but Fraggle Rock took it one step further in this episode by having Mudwell the Mud Bunny die on-screen right in front of the show’s most innocent character. Wembley, once again, has a dark fact of life shoved right under his nose- and he has absolutely no idea how to deal with it.

The entire episode explores Wembley’s ‘coming of age’ as it were, beginning with his first ever solo overnight hike. Wembley proves to be forward-thinking by being absolutely prepared for anything he might come across, bringing his maps, pick-axe, change of shirt and….cookies!

Unfortunately though, none of these essential items are useful in the event of a rock-fall burying and knocking you unconscious.

And that’s where Mudwell the Mud Bunny, the rarest creature in the world comes in. He rescues Wembley and nurses him back to health. The two bond over their love for certain games and joke around all night. They seem to be a perfect pair of friends. The next morning, however, Mudwell rudely dismisses a very confused and rattled Wembley from his cavern. Wembley returns to his friends feeling incredibly distraught about the whole thing, but after opening up about it (only after Gobo sits on him), Gobo suggests he return and confront Mudwell. When Wembley does exactly that, it turns out that Mudwell had a very good reason for doing what he did. His mud life-cycle had finally come to pass and it was time for him to return to the clay. Before Wembley can grasp what was happening, Mudwell lies down and dies.

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Best Friends at First Rockfall

It’s not as if characters haven’t died onscreen during other children’s programmes. Much like in Marooned, it was the way Wembley learns to deal with the death of a friend that sets it apart. Wembley’s puppeteer, Steve Whitmire does a brilliant job of guiding the character through four of the five stages of grief. At first Wembley is in denial, then Boober tries to help him deal with his anger through a screaming session. By the time Mokey sets up her weird death ceremony, Wembley is deep into the depression stage. It’s not until after a hilarious chat with the World’s Oldest Fraggle that Wembley finally starts to accept that Mudwell is gone.

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The sad conclusion of a short-lived friendship

.Where Marooned contemplated the death of oneself, Gone but Not Forgotten contemplates the appropriate way to say goodbye in the event of a death of another. The entire thing is very confronting, but it teaches kids (and perhaps adults too) that death doesn’t mean the people you love will stop being a part of you once they’re gone. There’s also a wonderful lesson in accepting that grieving can take a lot of time, and that’s okay. That if anything, is one of the most important messages a show could bring to its audience, regardless of the demographic.

  1. The Gorg Who Would Be King (Season 4, Ep 22)

What exactly is out there in the universe? How big is it? How wide? How far? Junior Gorg certainly wants to know! The universe does exist, but does Junior understand it enough to be able to rule it as King effectively? The Nirvana Tree losing the last of its leaves is the least of Junior’s problems!

Eating the last Nirvana leaf in his panicking causes Junior to shrink down to Fraggle-size. Unsurprisingly, he is mistakenly chased by his parents down into Fraggle Rock and the third phase of the show’s ultimate interconnection comes to pass. The first two phases were Uncle Travelling Matt breaking the boundaries by heading into Outer Space, and then Sprocket finding his way into the Rock later on. These actions were the beginning of all three ‘worlds’ coming to recognise their dependence on each other; something I will touch on in another article.

And surprise, surprise, guess which Fraggle happens to be the one to help Junior out?

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Our Wembley’s all grown-up!

That’s right-Wembley!

For the third time on this list, Wembley is a key figure in the show’s exploration of deeper themes. But this time, instead of being the student, Wembley is the one offering guidance. After his experience of dealing with death (and breaking the racial boundaries between Fraggles and Doozers), it seems that the Fraggle who was so innocent and impressionable in the beginning is now ready to pass on his hard-earned wisdom to another character who was just as naïve, if not more so.

After finally meeting The Trash Heap, a funky song about standing alone and a very informative chat with Cotterpin Doozer, Junior finally understands! The Fraggles rely on the radishes grown in the Gorg’s Garden for food, the Doozers also need the radishes in order to fulfil their life’s work of building, which of course the Fraggles eat, which clears the way for more Doozer structures to be made, giving the Doozers their reason for living. Even if it took a while for Junior to realise, he and his parents need the Fraggles for friendship, which pretty much brings everything to full circle.

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The Three Species of Fraggle Rock finally understand each other. The Trash Heap must be so proud!

 

I honestly can’t think of a world in another kid’s show that is just as carefully thought through and put together. Junior seems to agree, and after saving the entirety of the Rock from being blown up by Pa, he scolds both of his parents for their narrow-mindedness and not bothering to step back and actually see the bigger picture. How many kids have wanted to do exactly that? Plenty! But they don’t because that type of confrontation is seen as very adult.

If any episode of Fraggle Rock is a perfect example of why the show’s writers have my absolute respect, it’s this one. Writer Laura Phillips (who funnily enough, also wrote Gone, but Not Forgotten), finished Junior’s story arch on a high note that can only be applauded for looking past any cliché  traps that most other shows would have fallen into. Instead of taking the Crown and vowing to be a kind ruler, Junior accepts it, then immediately ends the reign of the Gorgs and the ignorance that comes with having leaders that don’t bother to look further than their own noses. Junior finally understands the universe and the Gorg crown becomes nothing more than what Doc misinterprets as an oddly shaped meteorite.

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The First Rule about being King of the Universe, is that there is no King of the Universe!

Honourable Mentions That Didn’t Quite Make the Cut

  • The Incredible Shrinking Mokey
  • A Tune for Two
  • The Honk of Honks
  • Change of Address

Strange Encounters- Jim Henson’s The Cube

While Jim Henson is most recognized as a puppetry genius, there were a few occasions when he’d leave his characters behind in order to try something completely different. And when I say different, I mean seriously different!

One such foray into the ‘what-the-hell’ area of his psyche, Jim and long-time colleague, writer Jerry Juhl, fleshed out a script for The Cube. Produced for the NBC’s Experiment in Television project in 1969, Jim was almost adamantly as passionate about this project as he was with Time Piece (another project I’ll try to make sense of in due course). Jim was determined to be seen as an overall artist and creator than just a successful puppeteer. It’s rather interesting to watch The Man in The Cube struggling to make sense of his situation when the director behind the camera is trying to attempt the same thing himself.

In Jim Henson: The Biography, there’s a quote from Jim that describes The Cube as an ‘original, surrealistic, comedy,’ that, ‘dramatizes the complex, baffling problems of reality verses illusion’. What Jim called ‘dramatizing’, I call ‘completely ripping apart the concepts of reality and illusion in order to piece them back together in the form of an existential headache.’

The Plot and Confusion of It All

Is there even a plot?

The main story-line of The Cube is about an ordinary adult man somehow ‘waking up’ inside a giant cube-shaped cell. He seems to have no idea of who he is and where he comes from, all he can be sure of that he exists-or does he? As The Man struggles to get his head around what is going on, these strange people, who are no more than the archetypes they represent, make their way in and out of the Cube. They tell the man that he can get out of the Cube if he really wants to, but somehow The Man remains inside. I wouldn’t call this a plot, so much as a series of examples and situations stringed loosely together.

In the very first minute, there is already a question that needs to be answered: why on earth isn’t this guy screaming for help? He just woke up in what is essentially a prison cell with no windows or door. His memories seem to have been wiped, so he has no sense of self, yet he knows that he shouldn’t be in there. Instead, he wanders around in a daze looking like he’s simply being mildly inconvenienced by being placed there. What was Jim and Jerry trying to say here? Perhaps The Man isn’t panicking because the Cube represents a human’s life, a very neat and squared space of time in which chaos can ensue. The Man isn’t freaking out because the Cube is simply what the Cube is- it is what it is and there’s no point in questioning it because it is there to be what it is.

Just because he isn’t panicking, doesn’t mean The Man won’t try to work out how to break out of it. Right as he complains that there isn’t even a seat, in bursts Arnie with a stool for him. Ted barely finishes expressing his relief that he isn’t alone when Arnie slams the impromptu door he created closed. Then The Man tries to push it open, it’s as if the opening never existed. From here that process is repeated: the strange people barge into the Cube, the Man demands answers, the people impart stories and wisdom that would make The Riddler scratch his head in confusion then walk back out of existence.

Each and every one represents a different aspect of the life The Man should be living. Just to make it easier, I’ll break it down by each intrusion and try to determine what they are meant to mean:

The Family: My best guess is that they are supposed to represent the family portion of The American Dream so prevalent in the 60’s.

The Manager: Perhaps ‘Mr. Thomas’ is the idea of the boss in whatever workplace The Man was supposed to be employed in. Just as Mr. Thomas oversees ‘the establishment’, a boss does tend to dictate how someone’s life is run, even outside of the workplace. He causes a lot of the doubt and conflict that the Man endures.

The European N.P.D (and the Tied up Dr Kingsley): Perhaps influenced by the Cold War, these characters seem to represent the paranoia, sense of justice and guilt that one may feel throughout their lifetime. The Man ends up in hand-cuffs, seemingly having his ‘hands tied’ when it comes to fixing a situation which is out of his hands.

Interior Decorator: Miss. Biggs plays around with the pointless beautification of one’s life as well as the eternal search for beauty where it simply isn’t.

The Guitar Player and the Band: The song is so freakin’ delightful. ‘You’ll never get out til your dead’ is pretty much self-explanatory!

Watson: Every now and again, you’ll come across screaming, loud and clear warnings about your future if you take a certain path. Watson is the human embodiment of that. You can’t always escape your mistakes. Watson became so attached to his Cube that soon there was nothing else that made him feel safe- he gave into the Cube. Never give into the Cube!

Jack the Actor: Wait, so Watson was simply a character? What is real?

The Temptress: Lust and Sex can be a bit of a distraction, can’t it?

The Doctors: By this point, I really have no idea- something to do with the body.

Breaking the Fourth Wall

By the halfway point, it is suddenly quite blatantly pointed out that this whole situation is a TV experiment. The whole situation is so ludicrous that The Man can’t fathom it being a hallucination, so he asks to know more about it being a television show. And just to make this whole thing even more dandily screwed up- Mr. Thomas proceeds to show The Man the how it all supposedly ‘ends’, Is this Jim trying to say that our lives are pre-recorded and that we simply edit and add things in as we go? No matter what, getting out of the Cube doesn’t seem to be an option.

Funkadelic 70’s Guy: Racism and the ignorance that came with being a white man at the time. The Man should be grateful that he at least has somewhere to be, even if it isn’t quite what he wants. At this point, The Man is starting to crack as he realises that the Cube is the only neutral thing in his life.

After Party: Projecting a fake persona is sometimes the only defence mechanism someone has at their disposal. We all want to be seen in a certain way. The Man seemed to be in denial of this.

The Psychologist: Everything is anything because it’s everything. If you can’t understand how the universe works, then what is the point of living in it? Can The Man grasp that? I can’t. I really can’t.

The Sugar-coat: What is a lie? Who can you trust? To be paranoid is to have an ugly personality which leads to an ugly life.

The Test

At this point, The Man is well on his way to having a complete and utter breakdown. Now he won’t even leave the Cube out of fear that he may be tricked in some way. He has officially trapped himself into the ideology of the Cube, as we all seem to do with the expectations placed upon us.

The Gorillas: Oh for fucks sake! I think my mind is about to snap too!

The Comedians (?): I know it’s meant to say something about needing to find the funny side of life, but at this point, I’m about two more destroyed synapses away from a nervous breakdown.

Kid on Tricycle: Because making a kid chant something in a creepy fashion is very reassuring.

The Guru Guy: Okay, first of all- LOOK IT’S JERRY NELSON! Secondly, I can’t be too sure what he was meant to being to the table. There’s some more existential talk and then something about relying on a deity. Religion? Having faith?

The Funeral and the Gun: At this point, I’m too busy trying to remember if my hands are real or just a social construct.

The Perfectly Executed Prank: The perfect way to describe life.

 

The Man has finally cracked. Everyone and everything finally breaks down into something that makes sense because it makes no sense at all. The Man understands that now and makes his way out of the Cube, and into the office of the warden. It appears that he was in an asylum-type situation and now he knows exactly what reality is. If he cuts himself- he bleeds…..strawberry jam? The office fades back into the Cube and there he stays. Forever.

In what I can most accurately describe as a ’50 Minute Mind-Fuck’,  Jim Henson manages to make sense of what reality is by establishing that it makes no sense of all- which is accurate. Reality is a construct of the mind. Science can figure out how the universe works, but it will only ever be a foundation on which we all lay out our own interpretation of life. We are all The Man, deliriously confused, from the time we are born to the time we die. We are all stuck inside our very own Cube and will just have to make the best of the situation.

The Best Response to Criticism I Have Ever Read

From the general tone of this article, I think you can grasp exactly how I feel about The Cube- Compromised, but very impressed with the concept.

In California after the show first aired, there was a ‘critic’ only known as Mr. Dionne who made his disgust with The Cube known by complaining that, ‘the most disciplined attention I could give The Cube was a belch from the grave of Marcus Aurelius, occasioned, I might add, by the dead weight of its own dust caving in on itself.’

Jim, using his keen eye for sensibility and modesty, came up with the following respectable response:

Dear Mr. Dionne,

What the fuck are you talking about?

Yours truly,

Jim Henson

Ah, such poetry! Such tactfulness that man was blessed with!

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What M*A*S*H Did Right

Hawkeye: War isn’t Hell. War is War and Hell is Hell. And out of the two, War is worse.

Father Mulcahy: How do you figure, Hawkeye?

Hawkeye: Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?

Father Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.

Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chock full of them-little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.

The General’s Practitioner (Season 5)

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Man, I love the writing in this show!

Along with The Muppets, M*A*S*H is more than likely to keep cropping up on this blog. It’s been a staple of my life since I was about seven. I remember my parents bringing home the first season of the show. For them, this was all about the nostalgia factor. For me, it was about absolute boredom. Why would I want to watch an old medical show about a bunch of doctors in the army? My memory fails me on how and when, but after a while, as most things do, it began to grow on me. Soon enough, watching our way through all eleven seasons became a family event. Not very exciting, I know, but sometimes the most mundane stories end up being the most significant.

It’s hard to believe that a show that began so comedy-oriented would end up being one of the most emotionally driven, reality-checking programmes of all time. I’m not sure what the casting process entailed, but I’m going to take a stab and guess that the casting people were looking for actors with great comedy chops. Of course Alan Alda fit that bill perfectly, along with Wayne Rogers, Larry Linville, Loretta Swit, McLean Stevenson and Gary Burghoff as the main cast. Jamie Farr and William Christopher weren’t considered a part of the main lot until much later in the series. While they didn’t always play off each other that well, the cast for the first few seasons had great chemistry.

A great portion of M*A*S*H consists of the 4077th dealing with their frustration of being stuck in a constantly perilous situation. Comedy seems to be the company’s top means of venting and it’s both fun and interesting to watch the jokers in the camp clash with the hard-nosed opposition of Frank, Hotlips and the Upper Brass. When BJ, Potter and then Winchester came onto the scene, things became a little darker with the writing, but they still had their own unique quirks to bring into the mix. Mike Farrell as BJ wasn’t as outrageous as Trapper, but he was clever about his humour, being seemingly clean-cut and innocent while hiding his prankster skills. Harry Morgan as Potter was a much stronger leadership force then Henry, but he was just as caring and knew how to have a laugh if said laugh was well earned. David Ogden Stiers as Charles can take a little while to adjust to, but his slow adjustment to both his pompous attitude and the camp is endearing to watch.

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One of M*A*S*H‘s biggest strengths was the ability of the writers to make these transitions as smooth as possible for the audience. In cases like Wayne Rogers, who walked away from the show, the change in casting was abrupt, but definitely not painful. By the time Radar was sent home by Potter, it almost seemed natural. The first episode after Radar’s departure was even called ‘Period of Adjustment’ with Klinger becoming frustrated with having to live up to Radar’s legendary efficiency. It was all clever writing and something I have come to admire, even attempting that kind of writing in my own work.

M*A*S*H has assisted me academically in more ways than I can count. I like to think of myself as rather imaginative, but all throughout my high school years I sometimes found myself with a bad case of ‘ideas block’. Believe me, if there was a way I could use M*A*S*H as a guideline, reference or even a topic of conversation, you could bet I’d find a way to warp it into something useful. In Drama class, I used one of Hawkeye’s many long-winded monologues when we were focusing on our vocal performance. Two of my highest marked essays in English were based on different episodes. One of which referred to the Season Five episode ‘End Run’ when the essay required literary arguments in favour of controlled human euthanasia. I’m sure I’ll come to talk about this episode in due time considering it touches on one of many issues which wasn’t discussed much during the time of the show’s original run.

Let’s talk about those issues for a moment. Off my top of my head, I can think of:

  • Sex
  • Alcoholism
  • Death
  • Divorce
  • Un-romanticized war and violence
  • Suicide
  • Mental health
  • Feminism
  • Homosexuality
  • Bigotry and Racism

You know- for laughs!

It would be easy to pin the majority of these topics being explored well after the ‘dramedy’ phase of M*A*S*H began. In actual fact, even in the show’s early slap-stick driven seasons, the writers were already pushing the boundaries of what could be shown on television. A perfect example is the Season Two episode ‘George’. The plot consists of Hawkeye and Trapper John protecting an unwittingly outed wounded solider from Frank Burns, who wants to turn the Private in due to his homosexuality. The writing by John W Regier and Gary Markowitz is far ahead of its time. During the episode’s time of release in 1974, homosexuals portrayed in TV shows typically served as the butt of crude jokes. M*A*S*H goes in the opposite direction, having Private George as the centre of the conflict, but attacking the bigotry of Frank Burns instead. While the show hadn’t always been above a cheap shot or two, it’s clear that the writers seemed determined to shed a new perspective on things that the world during that time condemned.

The last thing that has always stood out on M*A*S*H for me, again due to great writing, was the style of comedy. It seemed to be a kind of Vaudeville, pun-oriented, pop-culture and literature-oriented mix of laughs. It’s the type of humour I’d imagine The Muppets would’ve wielded if they were more adult-oriented during The Muppet Show years. That type of comedy could easily get boring, but when you have such a great cast to perform it, it never gets old. I highly recommend the Season Four episode ‘Hawkeye’ where said character has to monologue his way through a concussion in the care of a South Korean family who can’t understand a word he is saying. Its twenty-two minutes of Alan Alda at his best, working with some of the most profound dialogue I have ever heard. There’s a three-minute piece about the human thumb which left me stumped for several minutes. The comedy isn’t just chuckle-provoking, it often makes you think about it too.

Hawkeye: I will not carry a gun, Frank. When I got thrown into this war, I had a clear understanding with the Pentagon: no guns.

Frank: *Snorts*

Hawkeye: I’ll carry your books, I’ll carry a torch, I’ll carry a tune, I’ll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash-and-carry, carry me back to Old Virginia, I’ll even ‘hari-kari’ if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun!

Officer of the Day (Season Three)

M*A*S*H has been my all-time favourite show for the longest time. Somehow, I doubt that’s going to change any time soon. The cast is brilliant, the directing is top-notch, the writing is sensational and it all comes together in a wonderful mix of timeless comedy. I admire it for its audacity to touch upon subjects in a way no one else would have dared during its time of production. There’s a reason why M*A*S*H has never been off-air since its debut as it jumps from channel to channel, continuing to entertain its audience. Hopefully, it will continue to bring in a new generation of fans, such as myself. If any show deserves the chance to last forever, it’s M*A*S*H and the staff of the 4077th.

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George Lucas: A Life

Another review. Another great biography.

After reviewing Jim Henson: The Biography, I was unsurprisingly looking forward to sinking my eyes into Jones’ next big project. It was a completely different reading experience this time, as I had gone into Jim, knowing exactly who he was, but with George Lucas, I had to ask, “Who is Lucas-other than the ‘Star Wars guy’ anyway?”

Turns out, George Lucas is a lot of things! A strange sentence for some people to read, I know, but I’ve never really been a fan of Star Wars, or any other of Lucas’ projects to be honest. I was reading this from the perspective of a film student who wants to learn about the great figures of cinema. Although I will admit the Muppet fanatic in me beamed proudly whenever Jim Henson was pulled into Lucas’ path, or whenever Frank Oz made his brief cameos during discussions about Yoda’s development. Frankly, this was a lesson in the most recent era of cinema’s history, from the perspective of a man who struggled to find the balance between ‘doing it for the artist’ and ‘doing it for The World’. The latter of those two has different connotations: ‘The World’ as in the fans who seem to have just as much say in a franchise as the actual filmmakers, and ‘The World’ as in corporate Hollywood who is desperate to keep the cash flowing as heavily as the magic of film.

George Lucas didn’t want anything to do with either….if he could help it anyway.

While it was interesting to read about Lucas’ early years in Modesto or about his personal life, I was more intrigued by his connections and relationships with other filmmakers, both in and out of the USC crowd and the strange politics that came with them. There’s irony in Lucas’ ideology of keeping the ‘independent artists’ in a closed circuit despite his gripes about Hollywood being closed off to outsiders. I was also astounded at just how influential Lucas became to cinema as a whole by only making a few small decisions. When one has associates such as Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and Steve Jobs, it’s no wonder one filmmaker’s work began to influence another’s, eventually changing the way mainstream films would look and sound way into the future. Even some of the most successful companies cropped up out of circumstances caused by Lucas and his colleagues. I had no idea Pixar had started as a type of underground group within Lucasfilm! It’s a weird and wonderful example of a spark turning into a flame, which turns into a raging fire- the fire in this case being the rearrangement of cinematic entertainment as we know it.

Dedication Of The Sumner M. Redstone Production Building

As much as I tried not to, I couldn’t help but compare George Lucas to Jim Henson. Jones even remarks on their similarities in both of their biographies. Both were majorly independent, had their own clear-cut visions and wanted to have a hand in everything during every stage of production. But while Jim was a majorly successful creator underdog, George is an astoundingly successful creator who behaves like an underdog. He’ll jump to play either the victim or the victor depending on how the scary, overbearing Hollywood system decides to play ball. It would be easy to call him paranoid, but on a level I can see where he comes from. Being forced to re-edit a film you’ve poured your heart and soul into would be rather unbearable, causing you to want to flip the nearest executive the bird. I wonder if Lucas would’ve felt so deprived of creative freedom he had gotten his start in filmmaking during this generation. With so many online platforms and small companies to create independent films these days, Lucas’ would’ve had more opportunities than he’d ever realised.

Once again, I’m captivated with the flowing, yet detailed structure of Jones’ writing. George Lucas’ life is not a simple one to tell the tale of, so the way all the independent ‘plotlines’ are melded in together is an impressive feat indeed. There is no having to go back and re-read anything you might have misread, a sadly common trait in biographies which attempt to cram just as much information into each sentence. There’s the careful weaving of quotes into the story, all of it perfectly relevant to what is happening at the time, something I’m eager to call one of Jones’ best qualities. What more can I say then it’s an absolute pleasure to read? Another wonderful effort by a biographer whom I can’t wait to see the next work of.

Whether you’re a die-hard Star Wars fan, an Indiana Jones fan or simply a self-proclaimed film buff, this is a book you would do well to add to your bookshelf.

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