Gamera Versus the Doctor

A lot has been written about how the pop culture of certain places and times reflect the psychological and philosophical make up of those places or times. I never thought too deeply about it, to be honest, since my consumption of pop culture is odd or random enough that I don’t feel too deeply tied into the zeitgeist. But one thing has been banging up against my sensibilities for a few months, and I can’t help but bring it up.

(Honestly if I were a better person I’d spend the time talking about how you can’t search anything online without finding racist photoshops of Obama. I searched various disparate things today, including turtles, Doctor Who, Totoro, etc. They almost all had racist Obama stuff in the first few dozen hits. Seriously, people? This is what you are doing with your time? Please, please for the love of God just be a small group of racist jerks flooding the web with these images. The thought that many thousands of people are doing this is physically painful. But I digress.)


It’s the U.K./Japan pop culture that fascinates me. Ostensibly very different places, the U.K. and Japan share some similarities. They are both island nations. But border larger, historically significant cultures. Both were devastated during WWII. But one odd, interesting thing they share that interests me: They both produce pop culture that other countries are really nuts about.

I wonder what it is, exactly. The pop culture itself could hardly be more different. I defy anyone to find a more significant connection between Gamera and Dr. Who than the photo above. (And please, if you find it, make a shirt of it. And send it to me. L, black, short sleeve. Thanks.)

Even the response to the similarities is different. In the wake of the destruction of war, Japan reflected on death with Daikaiju and horror. Great Britain made silly comedies and a very logical positivist science fiction show. A show that originally was intended to serve as educational material for kids. Both being small island countries, Japan made fiction in which it dictated terms to the U.N., while the President of the United States shows up to take over when things get serious in Doctor Who.

Why do these two cultures’ film and television fascinate us so much? It doesn’t happen with China. Or France. Or Australia. (We briefly considered Australia. Thankfully Paul Hogan threw himself on his sword and saved us all decades of frustration. Good on ya, mate. Good on ya.)

It almost makes me want to spend some time in the U.K. I’ve lived in Japan for years. Maybe I should go to the other island nation that makes most of the television and films that I watch. It’d give me a chance to find out what the deal is with these island nations making cool shows. And pitch my idea for a crossover series, where space marine Rowan Atkinson hunts down escapees from Monster Island with the help of his time machine. I’d call it Dr. Black Adder, Monster Killer.

Man I still can’t write titles.


Look You Upon My Haircut and Despair

I really enjoy old educational videos. It’s a particular problem of mine. I should probably seek some form of professional help. But there is something about outdated pedagogy, horrible acting, and strange and upsetting haircuts that just make me happy. Like I said: it is certainly worthy of years of powerful therapeutic intervention.

I first discovered these educational films as a child in rural West Virginia. We were subjected to a ton of these. We generally watched them on old reel-to-reel machines that, while perfectly quaint additions to some steampunk themed party today, were simply cheap pieces of junk back then. (To be clear: they are cheap pieces of junk now too. Just cool cheap junk.)

I rediscovered them later in life when Mystery Science Theater 3000 started airing them before the shorter, more Roger Corman-y films they showed. I instantly recognized them- creepy, dull, but somehow very real. Like a horror villain. I couldn’t get enough. Recently, Rifftrax began airing similar shorts, with a broader (and arguably even creepier) selection of films. Some of these newer ones seemed aimed at urban schools, which delighted me to no end. In part because it made me realize that the super white and suburban short films we saw as a kid were meant for us! Someone had thought through the process long enough to decide, “Oh these bland and terrible films are being sent to West By God Virginia. Make sure to make them PURE WHITE and even duller than usual. Those kids can’t handle the truth.”

With all the madness for technology in education and Web 2.0 nonsense in schools today, this kind of mass produced madness is probably lost forever. I kind of hope not, personally. I hope that I can bring it back into my classroom, if only for a day. I want kids to study it as a history lesson. My generation may have not been through war, kids. But we saw shag haircuts floating over horrible special effects. We were told about our bodies by afro-sporting white guys in jumpsuits. We learned that drugs were free and available at every school bus stop. Unfortunately, we also learned that those same drugs could make the shag haired freaks in jumpsuits go away…

And that, kids, is why we grew up to be the generation that created reality tv. Don’t do drugs.

Commander Taviri And The School Search

I’m in the middle of an intense, challenging, and somewhat frustrating job search. I’ve reached the point where I am no longer concerned about where, really. I just want to teach. It’s funny, really. Teaching is a job that many think is torture; I have any number of friends who are shocked that I love working with small children. Yet I have spent more than a year struggling to be allowed to do that job. Viri tells me that I’m a good teacher. It’s very sweet of him, and I love the positive attitude he has inherited from his Papa. It’s better than a criticism of me, surely. Although it’d be hilarious if he was constantly judging me. Not nice, but highly amusing.

I’m excited about the possibilities in my first few years of teaching. I’m anxious to start shaping my classroom, developing my own professional persona. The real work of my life has been to find myself as a father, as a teacher, and as a person. In all of the professional, personal, and spiritual changes that I have been through in the past few decades the everyday elements of work and jobs has been secondary. To the extent that it has existed at all, really. I’ve never been a career person.

But now my career has met my personal goals. Being a father and husband means finding a way to settle down into a job. Growing as a person means following my goals as a teacher and a colleague. Furthering my scholarly goals means gathering data and learning how to be a better teacher. The different threads have intersected. It’s strangely poetic.

It struck me a few weeks ago that if I had a million dollars I would still be looking for a job as a teacher. I know that’s easy to say, but I really believe it’s true. I’d still be looking for my own classroom. I’d be striving to teach the kids about “constellations, math, and whatever they don’t know” as Taviri says. (He’s got a pretty exact idea of curriculum.)

I’m continuing to search. I don’t have a million dollars, of course. But it’s nice to know that I’m happy with wear I’m heading, regardless.* I’m excited about the next stage in my life. I’m ready to have my own classroom. I’ll even teach more than constellations and math. I hope Viri doesn’t mind.

*I will still take a million dollars. You know, if you got it to spare.**
**Seriously, we’re broke.

Playtime! You Will Play Or Be Deleted!

My hobbies may be having some detrimental effects on my children. The kids are currently in a round of “Doctor Who aided by Commander Taviri and Commander Arkaedi versus the Space Zombie Trolls,” and the game shows no signs of ending anytime this millenia. It leads to some amazing scenes, scenes which make me wish the kids had Michael Bay’s budget and a year to just film themselves. Granted the story would be a little random, with the trolls sometimes being killed by Magic Electricity Bolts and sometimes being turned to stone by the Wizard. The Wizard is a little vague, being Commander Taviri’s… alter-ego? Friend? Brother? He’s not always sure. (I’d ask, but he fell through a time portal and is a kid right now. A kid who has no answers.)

A high point of the epic film would be Arkaedi’s voices. We always joked that with her cute little voice, it would be hilarious to have her say violent things. Her own action film where the last thing the villain sees is a pretty shock of red hair, and a cute face saying, “When you get to hell… tell ’em Pretty Pretty sent you.” She has inherited her mother’s penchant for mimicry, and it is awesome. Hearing Lizard Men speaking in lizard voices, interrupted by ten to twenty second twitches, is comedy gold. I imagine Commander Arkaedi as the light hearted sidekick in Taviri’s gripping space/time/zombie adventure. But I guess the final edit could reveal her true heroism. She certainly has the “hair flying backwards” part of female heroism down pat.

The fun part about their games is how they have no worries about continuity. Commander Arkaedi runs around shouting “Exterminate!” like the Daleks, then the Enterprise beams in and stops her, only to have her turn into Pingu. Then, for a few hours, she’s a penguin. There is no call back to her earlier Dalek existence, no story where she laments all of the deaths she caused before she moved to Claymation Antarctica…She’s just Pingu now. She is selling fish. Take that, fanboys!

By far the greatest Arkaedi contribution to the game is her “Beaky” shadow puppets. She makes her hands into chicken beaks, and the shadows cast by her hands become “Beaky.” Sometimes Beaky is joined by other shadow creatures, but they all say “Beak! Beak!” at every opportunity. Wait, now that I think about it… they are strangely similar to her Dalek character. Maybe there is reason to her game after all!

Wait… Maybe she’s the villain! She’s really is masquerading as a cute little girl!

I have to admit, she fooled me for these three years. When I get to hell, I’ll warn them… Pretty Pretty is coming…

“Beak! Beak! Exterminate!”

Album Title: Music Belies Meaning

I have such a strange relationship with music. I feel like it has taken such a large amount of my energy over the years… yet I periodically reject it in favor of other interests. Perhaps it’s an aspect of my general flighty nature. I get excited, enthusiastic by political music, but I know that real meaning is not conveyed through what music gets played.

(That rhyme was unintentional. I promise.)

(If intentional I would have found a way to shoehorn “abeyance” and “conveyance” into the article. My word nerdiness knows no bounds, but my bad jokes, thankfully, do.)

Perhaps nothing better illustrates that than the band I posted above. Now, I love Propagandhi, despite the silliness and the preachiness and all the -nesses that make them, objectively, not a terribly good band. But they defined a clear period of my life, in between hating different musical types. On that very album is the song Anchorless, which I alternatively hated and loved.

(I’d go on to hate and love John’s next band, The Weakerthans. Currently I love them again.)

(Wait, maybe… No I love them.)

I’m not sure what it is about this medium that makes me vacillate between extremes. I don’t do it with my (more serious?) intellectual and spiritual pursuits. I don’t suddenly “hate” Sufism or get all into Glenn Beck. Why does music cause such a flux in what I like? I dont even do it with things that really do deserve some of my creative scorn, like science fiction, fantasy, or poetry.

(Honestly if anything poetry would deserve the kind of waffling that I give to music. Why do I still like Gary Snyder? I just do. Why do I not heap some scorn on Ferlinghetti for his later work? I can’t, that’s why!)

Maybe it’s a two-fold problem. Music is both more ubiquitous and more intimate than other ideas. I can step back from my politics and think, but music is always there. Songs get played over and over, and they get into my brain. Maybe the omnipresence of music is the problem.

I’m going to try and keep my perspective here. Jaime’s current favorite is mewithoutyou, and I felt myself falling into a strange dislike of them. Then I realized I was being ridiculous, and I was just too used to them. They are a great band. Once again they are a soundtrack to a certain period of my life, but still hold meaning for me today.

In fact, check them out. They’re awesome:

Stages, Steps, Shifts…Something With an "S"

“AND study the classic books,
the straight history
all of it candid.”
-E. Pound

Contrary to Pound’s excellent advice, I’ve never been one for sustained scholarship. In fact, I’ve been quite critical of it, disappointed in some of the menial places it leads writing and thinking. I’m often wrong about that, and miss some great writing and thinking. I can’t help but keep up the criticism, however: I think it’s a general trend towards movement in my personality.

Wait, I can explain that vague comment.

I was always driven to move, to expand. I have always had a hard time staying in one place, one program… even one country. I see everything in my life as stages towards the next event. This is due to some good reasons (desire to explore, intellectual curiosity, passion for various subjects and geographies) and some bad ones (need for stimuli, tendency towards boredom, an at times critical nature). I didn’t, to continue the literary metaphor that Pound used, always desire the candid and historical nature of what I was experiencing. I needed to move on, expand, see the next horizon.

Jaime and I are fond of the mental exercise where you imagine that you’ve won the lottery. Say you have millions of dollars. What would you do? There are several ways to play this, but Jaime and I focus on two aspects. One: Imagine you have millions, and want to use that millions to live. Two: Imagine that you have millions to live on, and you think of what you would do with your free time.

I like the second one, because it is a better exercise for planning what to do with your life. What would you spend your time doing? This works well for Jaime and I, since we’re people who like to work. I guess if my goal was to lay around all day, the exercise would be a failure. But I really want to work, to do something. So, what would I do?

I would teach. I would write poetry. But most of all, I’d travel. I’d spend time going all over the world. I’d find a school in India that let me teach, a school in Japan, Brazil… I’d move. I’m not driven by money. I care nothing for money. But it’d be nice to have the freedom to move around.

So, this week I am working on applying for jobs, finding some places to teach. Maybe here, maybe somewhere else. I don’t really care where. Because what I want to do is teach, write my poems, and move around. Staying in one place for years is torturous tome, for all of those good and bad reasons.