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Flaming Barrel of Fun

  I am and will continue to be a fairly ravenous devourer of pop culture. Granted, as my Buffy the Vampire Slayer post proves, I’m usually about a decade or so behind the times, but I use my classification as an amateur historian to deflect that particular criticism. Now, all that really means is that I get to view old stuff and mock it relentlessly thanks to the glory that is historical hindsight, but it’s still a hell of a lot more entertaining than people give it credit for.

  As I have nothing better to do at the moment, I thought I would voice my incredibly witty and clever opinions regarding a couple of tropes I’ve seen pop up in media for awhile now. Now, these aren’t nearly as controversial as they could be, and I’m sure others have discussed some of them at length before, but they’re not me and they haven’t written a book about super heroes punching each other, so clearly they lose points in the grand scheme of things. And if they have, then I’m prettier so I still win. I guess the moral of this is that I don’t have to answer to anyone about what I want to talk about so I should really just get on with it.

Flaming Barrel Apocalypse

  You know how it goes: it’s an idyllic life until some unstoppable plague kills off a ton of people, or Slenderman’s grinning cousins steal everyone’s voices, or people that were rich are suddenly poor. What’s one of the first things people do in this situation? Rally in an attempt to band together? Scavenge supplies? Loot? Snap and kill a bunch more people?

  No. Clearly, you find a barrel and light that shit on fire.

  See, I’m not sure why movies and television somehow insist that flaming barrels just crop up whenever something bad goes down. I get that the idea is usually to show the destitute gathered around it for warmth, but it still doesn’t make sense why that’s almost always the visual shorthand for “bad shit done gone down.” Take this scene in the phenomenal Buffy episode “Hush” – referenced earlier with the aforementioned voice-stealing dudes. You also might want to ignore the music. Or not.

Apparently, stitching together clips of a TV show and setting it to music is a thing.

There’s a lot of unanswered questions going on. How does losing your voice somehow make you drive your car into a fire hydrant? But more importantly, why are there two business dudes duking it out in front of a goddamn burning barrel? How does losing one’s voice lead to the following situations: aggravated violence, no police presence, no fire department, and a fucking burning barrel. The power is still on, you know – if you’re cold, you go inside.

  The thing is, the whole process of even acquiring a barrel of that kind doesn’t make too much sense. Are people raiding oil refineries for the barrels, rolling them to desolate/bombed out/riot-striken cities, dumping out the oil, cleaning the insides, and then using it as a heat source? That’s clearly what’s going on, because the fires never burn thick and black. I guess I just don’t see how going from this:

I am so good at drawing, you guys.
I am so good at drawing, you guys.

... to this:


... is supposed to make me immediately think that something bad has happened. Maybe Hollywood is being paid by Big Flaming Barrel, or it’s just lazy and pointless design. And since I’m pretty sure I just made up the presence of a group dedicated to finding work for barrels, I’ll have to lean toward the latter.


Romances Between Students and Faculty

  As I made mention in my advice to incoming Teaching Assistants, relationships between college students and their academic superiors are a terrible idea that should be universally decried as icky. Which is why I always have such a hard time enjoying plot lines where characters get involved with either their students or their teachers. The only one that handled it in a slightly less creepy manner was in Friends, where college professor Ross dates a former student of his. And although they do deal with the potential ramifications of this – Ross could get fired – it is handled very jokingly. Which, I suppose, is to be expected of a thing called a situation comedy. Ideally, anyway.

  And before anyone says anything about these things happening in real life so I should unwad my underpants, I would like to point out that such events don’t make it any less fucking stupid, weird, or generally uncomfortable for everyone involved.

  The point is that most of these shows never really delve into the very real ramifications of these kinds of relationships, let alone get into the serious ick factor. First, even if it isn’t in direct violation of their contract, there is a tremendous ethical issue if, for some dipshit reason, students start dating the faculty while taking their class. Why, you ask? Well, the emotional involvement fundamentally invalidates any grade given to the student in question. If you give them an A (or any other grade, really), there will always be the question of whether or not they deserved it. And then, of course, this calls into question every other grade given in the class. Congratulations on invalidating an entire semester of work!

  And then there’s the student’s perspective. Are they really giving me the grades I earn, or am I being rewarded for sex/cuddling/hand holding and conversation? Am I an academic prostitute?

  And then there’s the ultimate reality of this situation: the power dynamic is completely fucked up. Whether or not it is expressly mentioned, I couldn’t imagine the idea that the person responsible for grading could hold it for ransom or the student might go insane and blackmail their way into an A. Hurray!

  Also, if this goes any earlier than the already-deplorable realm of collegiate learning, now you’ve added “horribly illegal” to the list of offenses. So please, please stop doing this, guys.

  And, hey, speaking of terrible ideas...

College is a Time for Experimenting!

  This old chestnut makes me want to ram the screenwriter’s head into a wall. I won’t, because I’m a weak, noodley man deathly afraid of pain and jail time, but it’s still frustrating.

  The setup is usually something along the lines of two characters being in a conversation. One is seeking advice that they will usually ignore; alternately, they are seeking approval for doing something they were already planning on doing. In any case, someone declares that “College is a time for experimenting!” as if that is all the justification one needs to do something stupid.

  Now, I fully understand people doing stupid things is a part of growing. And learning from those mistakes is fundamentally necessary to grow as a person. But sweet baby Cthulhu, if your excuse to doing something you think is a profoundly bad idea is your location/academic level, you should probably save time and just slam your head in a drawer. At least that way, you’ll save money and have the joy of a hangover without wasting money.

  See, my issue here is not that people are going off and being... well, people. It’s that they have to come up with an excuse to do something dumb. This is the same as your manager asking you your opinion on something, listening to you, and then ignoring everything you said because they made up their mind and just wanted you to agree with them. This is the drunk declaring “It’s five o’ clock somewhere!” while downing their fifth Bloody Mary at 9:30 Tuesday morning. This is ignoring the fact that your brain is giving you every alarm it can without expelling all of your bodily fluids out of every orifice available. It’s the coward’s excuse.

  Honestly, a hearty “Fuck it!” – or, for the PG crowd, “Screw it!”, even though it means the same thing – has infinitely more depth. Even if it is just passing bravado or doesn’t have quite the force necessary to convince anyone that it’s true, it lacks the bullshitty, weak-willed I-need-an-excuse-to-do-what-I-want. Stop being a simpering ballsack and get out there before I actively start rooting for the villains.

Insisting a Character is Attractive

  Every once in awhile, there is a need for an attractive, charismatic character in a movie or television show. Their charm and good looks serve to make their evilness less obvious; it can also be played for laughs when an emotionally deep character hates their significant other because of shallow primal attraction. Get it? Because smart people can be shallow, too!

  But way, way, way too often, a scriptwriter goes out of their way to really emphasize how attractive this character should be. This takes the form of ancillary character dialogue insisting the person is gorgeous, constant reiteration about their looks from mainstay cast members, what have you. The thing is that most of the time, when this happens, I can’t help but think the characters are protesting a bit too much.

  Now, you might be wondering why I’m not giving any specific examples. Well, that’s because I don’t want to undermine my argument by making people think I have a problem with how a certain actor or actress looks. Because that is not the point at all. Even though there is massive societal pressure to look a certain way, individuals still have preferences that may make them prefer a “nerdy” character to a football star. To each their own.

  No, the issue here is that this is a flagrant disregard of “showing, not telling,” that oft-abused rule where, in visual media such as television, games, and movies, you are supposed to be showing the audience things rather than having a guy or girl just plot-vomit into their brains. Perhaps this is a really recalcitrant holdover from the days of books, where you’d have to just tell your readers “Yo, this person is hot.” But – and this is the problem, here – with visuals, you don’t have to tell anybody that. You show them.

  Here’s where it really gets to me: the more characters insist that someone is attractive, the more I get the impression that the screenwriter didn’t know what they were doing or the actor/actress in question needed a boost to their ego. Or perhaps the fault is with the director thinking the person who cast the show was massively stupid or blind and, as a result, demands certain lines to be repeated in order to change reality by sheer force of will. I just always get the impression that someone is covering up a lack of confidence with unnecessarily aggressive insistence on people’s appearance.

  See, the thing is, people can be attractive for all kinds of non-mutually exclusive reasons. And it doesn’t have to just be physicality that makes people want to jump their bones. A person can be average-to-homely but still be considered attractive because of a myriad of non-physical reasons. You shouldn’t have to try to brainwash your audience because if you’ve done your job, they’ll know why people are falling in love/want to get their swerve on.

  And, yes, for all you people who are concerned with the self-esteem of theoretical people I may have insulted, people are all beautiful and should learn to love themselves and blah, blah, blah. Before you fire off an e-mail accusing me of being terrible, re-read this section and understand it. If you still feel the need to excoriate me, stick your head in a bucket of deer ticks instead. After all, somehow I’m already under your skin and you might as well try to give me Lyme Disease.

  That’s all for now, I suppose. Thank you for... hey, hey! You can’t just barge... What are you... Hey, man, I didn’t mean anything... just drop it! Drop it! HEEEE-

Big Flame Says Hello.

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