Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


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A period of transition

Sunday, March 31st, 2019

I was just searching for something in my Evernote file and found this:

We’re in a period of permanent transition. Nothing will settle.
It’s not an age of reading — it’s an age of looking. Looking at print or looking at screens — some of the print is interactive with sound and motion.

The old forms needn’t die. People are still buying tickets to the theatre, which has been dying for thousands of years.

I wrote that on July 25, 2014 (at Comic-Con in San Diego), no doubt as a jumping-off point for something I didn’t wind up writing. Since then, the permanent transition has continued, and nothing has settled.

By happenstance, I went to WonderCon today. I spent half of my time in the exhibit hall searching for just where comic books might be, then discovered that I was in Hall C of the Exhibit Hall — an area mostly devoted to independent artists and people lumbering around in gigantic bulky clumsy costumes representing things I didn’t recognize — and that comic books were in a small quadrant in a corner of Hall A. I’m now calling that one of the sections where “old forms needn’t die.”

I’ve been going to comics conventions for 54 years, and can remember when the exhibit hall was a smorgasbord. You’d have a comic-book dealer next to a science fiction dealer next to somebody selling Tribbles and around the corner from somebody hawking his own new board game. That’s how you’d come across new things you never knew about or thought about. Now we’ve got redlining:  comics way over there; whatever Funko Pops are and similar novelties in a separate hall, gaming stuff way back there, and so forth. At a time when the people of the U.S. seem more divided than ever (almost; we haven’t hauled out any cannons yet), someone has now split fandom down into its constituent elements too.

I remember being warned about this in the 2000s:  that, increasingly, we’d get served only the news we wanted, and blithely ignore the things that didn’t pertain to us, that we didn’t select. Take a look at Twitter or Facebook and tell me that that isn’t exactly what’s happening. And who is the perfect avatar of this dynamic? The guy who lobs one distracting new “emergency” after another into the chattersphere. It’s aggravating how much oxygen and attention he consumes.

Still, the old forms needn’t die. We’ve carved everything and everyone into smaller and smaller niches, just as the Alvin and Heidi Toffler predicted in “The Third Wave.” It’s all still here, just smaller and discrete. Which is fine in many ways. A lot of the mass market didn’t serve a lot of people, including me. Television was very bad when I was a kid; ironically, there’s so much great television now that no one could possibly watch all of it and most of it looks bland. Turn on your TV (or device) and there are so many high-quality choices that none of them seems compelling. A lone diamond sparkles against velvet, but looks lost inside a gem mine.

Now we search, in a time when everything is findable. Nothing need go out of print (or “print”) any more, and no market is too small for some attention. At the convention, I picked up a newly published book called “Comic Book Implosion:  An Oral History of DC Comics Circa 1978.” The book relates the story of DC Comics announcing a big “DC Explosion!” of new titles in 1978 — and then canceling the entire effort two months later. Not exactly “The Story of Civilization,” right? Pretty arcane — but, still, there’s some interest in the topic somewhere (like, here — with me), so it exists. I also would assume that the topic exists on Wikipedia, and it does. In 2001, I attended a speech by Thomas Friedman wherein he talked about what he called the “Evernet” — being ever-available, ever-on, because of the cellphone and the internet.

That was six years before the iPhone, which solidified the Evernet, increased immediate access to information, and also increased the immediate sharability of information — as well as disinformation. Since then, the permanent transition has continued abated. And now, thanks to speed and availability, fluctuations will increase (economic; sociopolitical; cultural) and nothing will settle.

47 months

Sunday, March 10th, 2019

I do not like Paul Manafort.

I do not like his kind or sort.

I do not like himself or his’n,

I would not like him out of prison.

 

Paul Manafort is a bad actor,

which the judge failed to factor.

I think his sentence far too light,

And think that on this I’m quite right:

that he should spend his days in jail

and never live to tell the tale.

Update

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

Okay, I now know who Jussie Smollett is. He’s a guy who may go to prison for three years for telling serious lies.

Which in other hands would make him presidential material.

Hypertension news

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

Screen Shot 2019-02-19 at 3.39.33 AM

 

When a guy I know through Facebook posted the story above, from 1989, I commented, “At this point, I have to let the 30-year-old crimes go. There are so many new ones every day that it’s hard to keep up.”

“It’s about the Jussie Smollett story,” he said.

Oh, sure, I thought:  What’s the Jussie Smollett story?

I looked it up, still didn’t grasp the full impact of what he was trying to get at, and moved on.

That’s what happens when you more or less take the weekend off from the internet.

Sure, I dipped in here and there (I felt compelled to note, for myself at least, that celebrating Presidents Day didn’t mean I celebrated all Presidents… and far from it), but for the most part, the long weekend was spent catching up on comic books, writing, going to the gym, running my playwriting workshop, exterminating super mutants in “Fallout 4” and reading the newspaper — in print. And here’s what happens when you set social media aside even just for three days and then come back: Suddenly, you recognize very little.

Most of what’s trending on Twitter will never wind up in the newspaper, and that’s fine. But the real insight is this:  What’s trending is fleeting, but because most of the trend is tied to outrage, and there’s always something new trending, the outrage is constant. Marshall McLuhan’s statement that the medium is the message was never so true.

Some of the people I follow on Twitter are professionally outraged. I don’t mind the act when it’s Lewis Black doing it for laughs; I feel differently when it’s some professional CNN guest pumping people up to sell his latest book. The one guy did a livestream of his appearance on CNN, so all you’re seeing is his side — and what I saw was a trained monkey grinning at the host and punching up his own one-liners. Yes, he purports to be some sort of journalist, and yes, he’s got a new book, but that book is just a collection of his outraged posts and opinions. That’s not a journalist — that’s a late-night comic who isn’t funny.

Catching up, it seems that Jussie Smollett is now accused of having fabricated his story of being assaulted in a hate crime, and then the fake journalists over on Fox were having a laugh about that, but then Smollett strongly denied having fabricated the story. And Smollett appears to be an actor on some show I’ve never seen and had never heard of.

This seems as good a time as any to post a cartoon I also found on Facebook. It applies to more than just television screens.

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Presidential credential

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

I’m not going to be reading the memoir by Chris Christie, the former governor of my birth state, but I’m sure glad Matt Taibbi did. Here’s his blistering look at the book, and at just how the self-believed master negotiator Christie got so thoroughly strung along by Donald Trump. (Like, well, millions of other people.)

It’s fun to read this takedown of Chris Christie, who has deluded himself into believing he still has a shot at the presidency, but it can’t have been fun for Garden Staters to live through his governorship. Last I checked, the people of New Jersey remain divided on Chris Christie — split between those who hate him and those who plain loathe him. That’s what happens when you do things like close the state beaches to everyone — except yourself and your family.

(Not) government work

Friday, August 3rd, 2018

It isn’t exactly a revelation that the Trump disintegration — er, “administration” —  doesn’t know how government works (or, should work). But here’s the latest evidence:

  1. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that eliminating mileage rules on new cars would effectively reduce the ownership costs of a new vehicle by $2,340, or $468 a year over five years. Even if it’s true that this represents a cost saving, the job of the EPA is to protect the environment, not manage household budgets.  Or, at least, the job of the EPA used to be to protect the environment. (And the EPA, we should note, was started under executive order by a Republican president.)
  2. The Trump disintegration is also now saying that it should be the job of the ACLU to find those parents that the administration forcibly separated from children and then deported. Why a cadre of lawyers who work to protect our civil rights should do this — or even how — is anyone’s guess.

Given that this government isn’t doing its appropriate work as a government, it makes you wonder what they are doing.

 

Acceptance

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

My sons were watching “Defiance” last night, the movie where Jewish brothers in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe escape into the Belarussian forests in order to protect themselves and about one thousand Jewish non-combatants from the Nazis.

I reminded them, “Remember, there are good people on both sides.”

They seemed skeptical. So old-school.

Standards

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

For the record, as an anti-monarchist, I dutifully boycotted that royal wedding today. We Americans did fight a war over this sort of thing, you know. My feelings about it haven’t changed.

And now, an op ed from the most naive man in America

Monday, April 30th, 2018

This Republican pundit is shocked to learn that his side’s media outlets no longer want any content that isn’t 100% supportive of Trump.

“If, among those who supposedly cherish freedom of expression, certain widespread viewpoints become taboo, where does that leave us? In a dishonest media atmosphere.”

Gee, I hope this movement doesn’t leak over to Fox News, which always has news we can trust. Thank God we have a press secretary we can count on to share the truth with us.

p.s. Please note that this guy’s outrage manifested itself on the day he realized he’d lost his paycheck.

Today’s political prediction

Monday, March 5th, 2018

There will be no steel tariff.

It’s purely a political ploy to swing unemployed Pennsylvania steelworkers back to voting Republican in the March 13th special Congressional election.

Once that’s over, the issue will magically go away.

Supporting evidence:  Zero reaction in the stock market today. Traders know this isn’t for real.