Sunday, November 29, 2015

I Talk Too Damn Much

Happy Sunday! Hope everyone's surviving enjoying the Christmas gauntlet that seems to come earlier and earlier. I'll continue to do my part in the War on Christmas by saying this: Happy Holidays! Seriously, though I found this blog post on the origin of the War on Christmas meme to be fascinating. Yeah, I know, take information you receive from a blog post with a grain of salt, but it was interesting. Never knew said meme had its roots in the website. Spoiler alert: is racist and xenophobic as balls. Seems a reoccurring theme on the Right: scratch any of them and you find a white supremacist buried not too deep. Again, the only thing wrong with this cartoon, is that despite being over seven years old and Trent Lott being safely out of the corridors of power, it still remains sadly relevant.

All right, I'll stop being all political and whatnot. Especially since there's another, more succinct reasoning behind the War on Christmas meme that can be easily summed up with this quote by H.L. Mencken:

Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

Because people enjoy the holidays, enjoy getting and giving presents, hanging out and feasting with relatives, but joy distracts them from the fact that in the eyes of the Christian Right, everyone is worthless scum who deserves to burn in Hell forever. So in conclusion, they started the meme to politicize a religious holiday and in doing so, suck out whatever joy can be found in it.

Okay, now I'm done.

As for what's going on in this week's chapter, it's pretty much more of the same with an Angel showing up and comforting Mark yet not doing anything that would actually help him. Like I said last week, I keep wondering if I should come up with a tag for this trope where again, Angelic beings, instruments of a deity that is omnibenevolent (at least Ellanjay think so. Most of us think he's closer to Cthulhu than anything in the Bible), omnipresent, and omniscient, show up and do absolutely nothing that would actually help. Even though, like I keep saying, in a previous incident, it apparently wasn't against the ethos for an Angel to bust out a Tribble and provide a spacious ride so said Tribble doesn't suffer the least bit discomfort at the End of the World.

I know, I know, y'all get tired of me harping on the same points over and over again. Well, if Ellanjay give me something new to talk about, I will, but still. It's a basic rule of writing: while we know that there's a writer involved and the text didn't just bamf onto the page, we shouldn't be able to see their hand in the story.

I would say this book is like one of those cheesy fifties B-movies where you can see the wires on the intergalactic spaceship, but that metaphor doesn't feel right. Even those cheesy fifties B-movies have a certain energy and heck, many times the crappy special effects are part of the charm. It's one of the reasons that I object whenever anyone refers to Uwe Boll or Michael Bay as the modern-day Ed Wood. Ed Wood, for all his many faults, was a man who genuinely loved making movies and tried to tell a good story on film. The only problem, as Tim Burton's biopic* shows, is that Ed Wood was very very bad at it. Plus, Ed Wood was making movies on a budget of like $50 along with whatever change he dug out of the couch cushions, so comparing him to guys with multimillion dollar budgets seems unfair.

In fact, Ellanjay have much more in common with Michael Bay** and Uwe Boll in that like them, Ellanjay don't care. It's not about craft or storytelling with any of them; they just want to create an hour-long ego-stroke and get a fat paycheck for doing so. And yes, I do feel sufficiently guilty for using the "Honey Badger Don't Care" meme in reference to Ellanjay. Because Honey Badgers are legitimately badass, whereas Ellanjay...I don't need to continue, do I?

Again, in this story, everyone is simultaneously genre-savvy and a complete moron. This whole chapter, it's like Mark knows he is only a minor character in this story and that his job is to die in a suitably dramatic fashion so as to liven up a dull story and allow his creators to point at him and say, "See? People really are suffering at the End of the World?"

All right, I'll stop talking so damn much.

The first section begins with Lionel. I keep wondering if I should have changing my tag regarding him to "Where's Lionel?" to refer to how he disappears for several chapters at a time and no one seems to care.

But again, I still regret that after Ryan "Butt Monkey" Daley died in the Wrath of the Lamb quake in the single-digit books, I didn't immediately decide to start a counter keeping track of how many mentions he gets. Because we all knew despite all the crocodile tears shed on his behalf, that his good friends, including Lionel whom Ryan referred to as "being like a brother," would barely think about or mention him ever again. I probably should have started doing said counter as a means of keeping track of this stuff, but I didn't think of it at the time and I sure as hell am not going to reread the series once I reached the end! I may be anal-retentive but I have my limits! If any of you really care to know the exact number that much, you guys take on the Butt Monkey Project!

Lionel, like all good characters in this series, is doing fuck-all, talking with Darrion (who also hasn't been mentioned in ages). Darrion and the other believers who were with Mark, are now at Lenore's and are all safe. Again, I've come to think of all the minor characters as being fragments of this massive cloud-like being. They all float together in the background as one collective being until the plot requires their services, after which they temporarily break from the cloud and do their part in the story, before either rejoining the cloud or being, like Mark will eventually be, shuffled off-stage all together. It's the only theory that makes sense.

Darrion talks about how some Tribbles (their names are mentioned but I'm not going to give them to you, because really does it matter and really do you care?) are planning a rescue. To which Lionel says:

“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Lionel said. “If the info we’re getting from Fulcire’s computer is right, Mark is deep in the jail there. It would take a magician to get in and out.”

"Or y'know, an Angel. I mean, we live in a series where supernatural occurrences are the norm. It probably wouldn't be outside an Angel's abilities to, y'know, make the guards go to sleep, black-out the cameras, and bust out Mark," My version of Darrion paused. "I'm in trouble aren't I?"

"Yes," said Lionel. "For the Authors' ways are not our ways and while we often don't understand them, we must never question them. Now go back to the Minor Character Cloud where you belong!"

"Okay..." My version of Darrion looked at her feet as she dissipated back into the cloud, mumbling that it'd be nice if there was something to read in the cloud besides Jack Chick tracts.

Seriously, that last bit I just typed where Darrion just dissipates and goes away? I am barely exaggerating like at all, when it comes to this chapter. Because after that line from Lionel in the text, there's a line in narration that says, "Darrion said she would talk with the others and said good-bye." And that's the last we hear from her for this chapter and I'll be honestly surprised if we see or hear from her again. Okay, to be fair, I did use the "Search inside this book" feature (one of the perks of the eBook version) and we do get mentions of her again, but it won't be for awhile and I think it's safe to say that she will neither do nor say anything important, just like every other character in this book.

Lionel goes for a walk to calm down and decides to talk to Mr. Stein and Sam. The extent of Mr. Stein's participation in all this mess, can be summed up in the following paragraphs:

Lionel had been glued to the computer for a long time, so he decided to take a walk. He found Sam Goldberg and Mr. Stein and explained the situation. The two were visibly upset and knelt where they were and prayed.

“Sovereign Lord, we ask you to send your ministering angels to encourage Mark right now,” Mr. Stein prayed. “Prepare him for whatever you have planned.”

"And when thou dost prepare Mark, make sure thou hast the right balance of seven herbs and spices otherwise he shall taste terrible and be poor eating for all," said my version of Mr. Stein.

Again, anyone who reads my blog knows I enjoy nothing more than exaggerating for comedic effect, but like I keep saying, over and over again, "Can you really say I'm exaggerating by much?"

But Sam has a more substantial contribution to make to this chapter. No he's not going to do something silly like answer the same questions I keep asking about WHY GOD WAS ABLE TO SEND AN ANGEL TO BUST HIM OUT BUT NOT MARK?! That would be a waste of time that would plug a massive plot hole and distract from all the exposition.

Sam takes Lionel to meet with Lev Taubman. For those who don't remember or don't care, Lev Taubman and his mother were Jewishy Jews who did the right and noble thing by giving up their identities and becoming good RTCs after Token Jew sicced God on Lev's father and the rest of his family and many others after they had the nerve to object to the theocratic dictatorship Token Jew had set up with himself as the head. Because it's only wrong to crush those who disagree with you if those who disagree with you are right. If they believe slightly different things from the One True Holy Writ as laid out by God's Own Prophet, Tim LaHaye, then it would be perfectly okay to run roughshod over their rights and even kill them if necessary.

For those of you wondering, here's how they sum up Lev's background:

After they had prayed, Sam took Lionel to meet his friend Lev Taubman and his mother. They had become believers shortly after family members had died in a rebellion.

Yeah, the way that unpleasant bit is so passively mentioned...I'm going to assume that Ellanjay are the types who refer to the horrific suffering African Slaves went through as Involuntary Immigration, which is akin to referring to Rape as Involuntary Sex in that it completely takes away from the horror of what the victims went through!

Seriously, click on the previous link that delves into what happened to the Taubmans and tell me the passivity of this passage doesn't cheese you off a little. It's the old strategy where people wuss out and tacitly go out of their way to avoid mentioning who is at fault, much in the way people say "Mistakes were made," in response to things like the Abu Ghraib scandal, never actually answer the important question of "Who made said mistakes?"

:deep breath:

I am so sorry. I really didn't plan on going on such a tear this week. If this one-chapter (and it will definitely be just one-chapter) snark winds up being longer than the Iliad, I apologize.

Anyway, Lev has been in touch with some people in Jerusalem, who want to take up arms and fight against Nicky and rescue Jerusalem. As you guessed, they aren't believers; if they were, they'd obviously know that their sacred duty is to see nothing, do nothing and know nothing.***

After hearing this, Lionel shakes his head at the foolishness of those Jews (because no other religion besides RTCianity and Judaism would object to Nicky destroying a city considered sacred by several major religions, just as the participants of several religious traditions don't object to being forced to abandon their cherished beliefs and worship Nicky.)

“That’ll be like a peewee football team trying to win against an NFL team,” Lionel said.

“What?” Sam said.

“They’re going to lose the battle, and they’ll probably all be killed.”

“I know that,” Sam said. “But Lev and I think we might be able to reach some of them for God. We want to go to Jerusalem before the big battle and tell them the truth.”

Uh, guys, I feel that your metaphor of the peewee team going up against an NFL team is inaccurate in that Spoiler Alert: TurboJesus slaughters all his enemies and sentences them to burn in hellfire for all eternity! But it's probably one of those things that has to happen in order to pad out the series or move things along even though it doesn't make any sense, just like everything else in this series. Plus, from the looks of things, it gives Ellanjay another excuse to do some RTCsplainning (though maybe I should refer to it as Jewsplainning) where they patronizingly explain to some foolish Jews about how they've been cute but wrong for countless millennia, misinterpreting their own scriptures and burning in Hell as a result of said misinterpretation.

Anyway, the rest of the chapter is taken up with Mark. There is a brief interruption where he calls Lionel, who has a Sad about Mark being imprisoned for his beliefs, but it goes nowhere and reveals nothing new, so I'm leaving it out, out of courtesy to my faithful readers.

Mark's section begins this way:

Mark sat alone in the darkness and waited. He could have played the interrogation a little better and made them think he was giving them solid information, but he was tired of playing.


Y'know Mark, you are a soldier. Granted, you're a child soldier, which is in itself a repugnant concept, but let's ignore that and continue along that line of thought. Basic knowledge, regarding captured soldiers, is that legally, all they have to tell their captors is their name, rank, and serial number. It's a cliché we've seen in like every war movie. But from there said captive doesn't have to tell his captors a damn thing. In fact, said captive can just sit there and lie his ass off and in fact, most soldiers are trained and encouraged to do that if they are captured.

But again, it's that conflict RTCs have. Their culture stresses obedience above all other virtues, yet at the same time, they want to be the brave plucky young rebels making a blow against tyranny. That's why they have such a collective hard-on for Dietrich Bonhoeffer (even though his views were a lot more nuanced than RTCs would believe). Everyone wants to be the brave martyrs, who died for their beliefs and shook the foundations of a major empire; no one likes to admit that as a citizen of the US, we're probably closer to Rome than we are to the Christians John of Patmos was writing to in the Book of the Revelation.

But doing so would force them to delve into Moral Relativism, which would force them to admit that there are shades of grey in life, times in which it comes down to the least-bad solution to a bad problem or the lesser of two evils, rather than "X is always wrong or right because" kind of thinking that they prefer. Plus, y'know if their children read a series where said plucky rebels made the choices of Oskar Schindler, deciding that lying is a lesser evil than being an accessory to much worse crimes, yeah, their kids might start making connections and chaos would ensue.

But yeah, this bizarre identity crisis, just like the racism bit, just seems to keep coming up among the Right, where they simultaneously aspire to be Rome, crushing those who dissent against them, yet also want to be the brave saints rebelling against Rome.

Mark hears singing and said Angel shows up. Turns out said Angel, again rather than doing something useful to help, taught Mark's cellmates how to sing the hymn "Nothing but the Blood."

This leads into a conversation between Mark and the Angel about the nature of being an angel vs. being a human. But unfortunately since this wasn't written by John Milton or Neil Gaiman or ANYBODY WHO ACTUALLY GAVE A DAMN! it sucks and it sucks hard. I'll post it for your perusal.

“We lift our voices in praise every day, but I must say, the words of the hymn writers are unique.”

“What do you mean?” Mark said.

“Humans write about redemption, salvation, the power in the blood of Jesus. We angels know nothing about such things, other than what we observe. We cannot be ‘saved,’ as you would call it. We had one chance to follow or rebel and that was it.”

“You mean when Satan was cast out of heaven?” Mark said.

“Correct. One third of the host of heaven followed Lucifer, and the others remained faithful to the Almighty. But all humans have fallen. All of them have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

“I guess I’ve never really thought about it that way. So why did we get a second chance and you didn’t?”

Again, this passage and the one that follows where Angel talks about witnessing the life and death of Jesus, are incredibly frustrating because you see the seed of an interesting idea struggling to get out but you know it'll be choked away by the thorns and weeds of Ellanjay's worldview. Because their worldview doesn't allow for doubts and questions, which must be uprooted quickly lest they spread and endanger their eternal soul.

I am thinking of in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman aka the series that introduced me to and cemented my love for Neil Gaiman. Specifically, I'm thinking of Vol. 4, Season of Mists, where Lucifer decides to give up Hell and from there, hijinks ensue. Really that whole comic is worth quoting and I command all my readers to go out and get it, but I'm just going to post a few quotes from it.

Lucifer's conversation with Dream contains several worthy quotations:

Why do they blame me for all their little failings? They use my name as if I spent my entire days sitting on their shoulders, forcing them to commits acts they would otherwise find repulsive. "The devil made me do it." I have never made one of them do anything. Never. They live their own tiny lives. I do not live their lives for them.
And then they die, and they come here (having transgressed against what they believed to be right), and expect us to fulfill their desire for pain and retribution. I don't make them come here. They talk of me going like a fishwife come market day, never stopping to ask themselves why. I need no souls. And how can anyone own a soul? No. They belong to themselves.... They just hate to have to face up to it.

But I was thinking more about another thing he said to Dream, which brings up powerful questions regarding the nature of Angels****:

Was I? Yes... yes, I was. I cared about so many things. I cared so deeply, back then, in the cold at the beginning of things. In the Silver City. I suppose that was why everything began to go wrong. You know... I still wonder how much of it was planned. How much of it He knew in advance.

I thought I was rebellng. I thought I was defying his rule. No... I was merely fulfilling another tiny segment of his great and powerful plan. If I had not rebelled, another would have, in my stead. Raguel, perhaps. Or Sandalphon.

We fell, my comrades in arms and I. We fell so far... so long... And after an eternity of falling, we came to rest in this place. And I knew then that there was no way that I would ever return to paradise.

There's a note of poignancy in that Lucifer realizes that though he thought he did what no Angel could do and rebelled, turns out he didn't. But y'know the RTCs would never delve into the ramifications and what they mean, but they'd probably never allow their kids to read Sandman, Vol. 4 in the first place. Otherwise, they would encounter quotes like these from the chapter with Charles Rowland:

“Go back? I don’t know. I think hell’s something you carry around with you. Not somewhere you go. They’re doing the same things they always did. They’re doing it to themselves. That’s hell.”

“I think maybe Hell is a place. But you don't have to stay anywhere forever.”

Even Dogma, a comedy made by evil secular Hollyweird, managed to delve into some of these issues in its scenes with Metatron. Heck, there's so much more poignancy in this brief dialogue where Metatron talks about Jesus than there is in the page-long version in the book.

Bethany: I don't want this, it's too big.

Metatron: That's what Jesus said. Yes, I had to tell him. And you can imagine how that hurt the Father - not to be able to tell the Son Himself because one word from His lips would destroy the boy's frail human form? So I was forced to deliver the news to a scared child who wanted nothing more than to play with other children. I had to tell this little boy that He was God's only Son, and that it meant a life of persecution and eventual crucifixion at the hands of the very people He came to enlighten and redeem. He begged me to take it back, as if I could. He begged me to make it all not true. And I'll let you in on something, Bethany, this is something I've never told anyone before... If I had the power, I would have.

But to be fair, it is hard to match Alan Rickman in terms of charisma.

:sighs: Y'know RTCs could really stand to watch all these movies that they get so up in arms about. Because The Last Temptation of Jesus Christ is a deeply reverent film with great respect for Jesus and Dogma, while poking fun at religion, it does demonstrate great respect for Jesus. Dogma, like The Life of Brian before it, spends more time making fun of Christianity and Christians, than it does Jesus Christ.

After this, Mark hears the sounds of footsteps and is all, "Is this it?" My head canon has the angel point and laugh until he (because of course, angels are male, just like God) dry-heaves, but he just mumbles about how Mark has one more test and bamfs away.

The Deputy Commander shows up and takes Mark outside, trying to intimidate him by showing him all the guillotines.

The deputy commander excused the guard and turned to Mark. “This is where it happens. Unless you cooperate, tomorrow you’ll be out here.”

“This is where I’ll wind up no matter what I say and you know it.”

“Not necessarily. You give us information on pilots, supply routes, locations of hiding places, information like that, and we’ll make things easier.” Lockerbie had a kind face, not unlike Mark’s cousin John. In fact, the two looked remarkably alike. “We have information that your group has been in contact with the mole inside the palace in New Babylon. Do you know anything about that?”

Okay, it's nice to see Ellanjay demonstrate some intelligence by having the Deputy play Good Cop instead of Baffled Cop, but of course, it fails, because the GC never follow through with any of its threats. No one even so much as backhands Mark. Part of the whole point of the Good Cop strategy is there has to be a Bad Cop; otherwise the whole thing doesn't make sense.

“Look, I can help in a lot of ways, but if the palace has a mole, I’d suggest you get an exterminator or a trap. I don’t know much about catching small animals.”

“Not that kind of mole. You know what I’m talking about.”

“You get nothing from me,” Mark said.

Rather than send Mark back to his cell and send someone in to be Bad Cop, instead the deputy undoes Mark's handcuffs and again continues to be all sympathetic, trying to reach Mark. I suppose Ellanjay instead for us to be on Mark's side in all this, but like I keep saying, it's the villains who are making all the good points.

Lockerbie dug into his pocket and frowned. “They would have my head if they knew I was doing this, but I had a younger brother. He was killed in the outbreak of poison gas. You remind me of him.” He handed Mark a cell phone. “I’m going to let you stay out here for a while. You won’t be able to run. There’s razor wire all around, and the guards are armed. But think about your life and what it’s worth. Call someone you know, someone who cares for you. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

If you're wondering, the Poison Gas thing refers to the multiple attacks of the Lion-headed snake-tailed flying people-killers which happened several books ago. For reasons that were never explained, the unbelievers couldn't see the people-killers; only the believers could. Even though both sets were able to see the demon locusts that happened not too long ago in the series' continuity.

I suppose again we're supposed to assume that said deputy doesn't really have a younger brother and was making it up to get Mark to talk, but given what a moral prig Mark is, I'm inclined to believe the deputy. Though I suppose I should be saddened by the fact that I'm awed that Mark just rolls his eyes after hearing Lockerbie's story and doesn't tell him that his brother's in hell burning for all eternity.

In a rare show of intelligence, Mark realizes that Lockerbie expects him to use said phone to call his friends and lead the GC right to them. Instead, Mark calls a GC news station and :gasp: lies to the news anchor, saying that he's seen the light and once to make a public confession. No points for guessing what winds up happening. Just know that apparently it was okay for Mark to lie in this situation, but lying to save the lives of others is still sick and wrong.

Anyway, that's it. Sorry for the super-long post and sorry for all the damn postscripts. Again, stuff needed to be said. If it's any consolation, Mark finally dies next week and this plot cul-de-sac comes to an end.

*If you haven't seen this biopic, go and do so. Yeah, Tim Burton directs and Johnny Depp stars in it, but it's before they got stuck in that creative rut that they have yet to come out of, so it's awesome.

**Is it wrong that I enjoy being all hipster-ish by going up to Transformers fans and going, "I hated Michael Bay before it was cool to hate him." I've hated him since he made a film about that day which will live infamy and managed to make James Cameron look like the master of subtlety even though Cal was so cartoonishly evil, he might as well have been vomiting pea soup.

***The fact that the bumbling German guards were played by Jewish actors who had fled the Holocaust and lost relatives due to the Holocaust, is what elevates "Hogan's Heroes" from stupid sitcom to awesomely subversive. Because sometimes the best approach to dealing with assholes like Nazis and those who share their repugnant beliefs, isn't to get all preachy and in their face, but to make them into a goddanged joke.

****I am aware that Jewish tradition holds that Angels are messengers created to do God's will and therefore can't rebel, but just go with me on this one.


Firedrake said...

Being an antisocial sort of firedrake (work from home, no television) I don't tend to get overexposed to the Xmas Season the way many people do. Mind you, I do still try to distinguish between the Christian festival Christmas and the Mammonist festival Xmas, which I think is fair.

Lionel probably spends his time between appearances doing… well, whatever it is that non-white folks do. I'm sure it's terribly ethnic.

Using "said" twice in the same short sentence like that is plain and simple bad writing rather than political hatefulness. It's almost refreshing.

"Lev". "Tsion". You know what Jews were called when I was growing up? "Robert". "James". "Alan".

Chomsky is very good on the passive voice. "Rocks were thrown"...

That attempt at RTCsplaining is at least a rare instance of an RTC in this series contemplating doing some actual evangelism, even at risk of bodily harm.

The situations in RTC books are set up to have simple moral answers, like those hateful children's books of the 19th century that they love so. Obeying Daddy is always the right thing to do, and Daddy's only necessary reason for an order is "because I'm Daddy".

I think I first noticed Bay with Armageddon. Didn't think much of that, though at lest it wasn't as preachy as Deep Impact.

Anonymous said...

The more you talk, the more we learn. It's fun and educational at the same time :-)

"...where they simultaneously aspire to be Rome, crushing those who dissent against them, yet also want to be the brave saints rebelling against Rome. " reminds me of how the Religious Right claim to be "persecuted" while simultaneously engaging (or trying to) in unashamed persecution of just about everyone else.

aunursa said...

though maybe I should refer to it as Jewsplainning

When a Gentile lectures a Jew on the Jewish Bible or Jewish theology or how to improve the Jewish religion -- I call that Goysplaining.

Mouse said...

Then that is the term I shall use, aunursa.

Blank Ron said...

What Anonymous said up there. As you've gone on with the series, you've become more analytical, more able to connect tropes in the books with others in our culture, more passionate about the many egregious flaws in them. Going on at length about them isn't a bug, it's a feature, and one your readers appreciate.