It Might Also Be Telling How We All Thought He Would Be Luke Cage

I don’t know that I have anything resembling an insightful review to give Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. As some of my friends have mentioned, that sure was a pilot. I mean, other than not knowing Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) was going to show up, I didn’t see much awesome in the premiere episode that wasn’t in the various promos. But, now there’s a stage, and it’s set, and maybe we’ll have some fun with it. It’s Joss Whedon and a geek property, so I’m certainly willing to give it a few episodes to show me where it’s going.

Oddly enough, the thing that might be most notable about the pilot isn’t the content itself, but the response to it. Specifically, Jim Steranko’s review. Or, at least, the last two paragraphs, where he tosses off a few rhetorical questions that are probably meant to be quick, cheap shots, but which I’m not sure really pan out that way:

Could anyone understand the dialogue delivered by the S.H.I.E.L.D. lab team? Did anyone feel punted into P.C.-ville by the Hooded Hero being black? And did we really need the rampant, dueling ideologies at the pilot’s denouement? We all understand melodrama has its conveniences, contrivances and coincidences, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect a certain transcendence with the kind of creative talent behind the series.

If only, at the episode’s close, a well-meaning security guard who worked in the subway terminal would have shot and killed the Hooded Hero to really punch up the philosophical dichotomy between what he termed the “bad guy” and the “hero.” Or would that kind of poetic irony been too over the top for a comic book-inspired TV series?

For a review which has as one of its primary criticisms a lack of focus in the work, the tail end here sort of suffers from the same, and goes a fair bit off the rails for me. Complaints about foreign accents have an uncomfortably tone deaf “why can’t those brits speak English?” feel, but I suppose it’s not too horrible.

The sudden jump to political correctness because of J. August Richards’ race gets especially hairy for me, though. And, mind you, inconsistent, since Steranko was just complaining that Samuel L. Jackson hadn’t made an appearance. Honestly, Richards’ role seemed to suggest the opposite of racial PC choices to me, in that it showed up the near-monopoly of Caucasian players in the regular cast.1

I gather from the last paragraph that Steranko was seeing some kind of Trayvon Martin allegory. That seems a stretch, though, as the guy in the hood here is the one running around playing vigilante. He’s also an adult, and possessed of a pretty ungodly level of strength. And his erratic behavior falls pretty clearly on the crazy technology / chemicals running rampant within him. The parallels to the case in question kind of seem to stop at “African American with his hood up.” If that’s all it takes for you to draw a line between them, it may say more about the critic than the writers in this case.

What the role suggested to me was: 1) Joss Whedon likes to use the same actors (note the aforementioned Ron Glass showing up), and 2) CW’s Arrow has a wider influence than I thought.

1. Ming-Na Wen is the obvious exception, though sadly she also doesn’t get to do much other than brood mysteriously and hit some people in the pilot. It will be nice when we get over the mystery there and she’s fleshed out.

Archive: Powerblog: Last to Know

With Spotlight all caught up on here until I finish the next chapter, I think we’ve taken a sufficiently-long break from Power Pack that I can post some more of this stuff. :)

(from Marvel Age Annual #2, words by Louise Simonson,
art by Jon Bogdanove and Art Nichols.)

I’ve previously discussed Power Pack’s wholly believable childishness. One of the many ways this expressed itself was in their complete inability to keep their “secret identities.” They kept forgetting to wear or have Friday make masks, kept forgetting to use their super-hero names when in costume. Really, anyone and everyone they ran into wound up knowing who they were. Except, that is, their parents.

“I can’t tell my loved ones” hi-jinks are, of course, a staple of super-hero comics. But Power Pack, it seems, had a little help. Jon Bogdanove revealed, just before leaving the series, that after Power Pack’s return from the Snark Wars, Margaret and Jim Power had been subjected to a “mindfix” by Kymellian healer Yrik. The process left the parents highly suggestible when it came to their children’s excuses. Of course, it carried with it the danger of mental breakdown in the face of the truth.

(I realize I’ve mostly been talking about Simonson’s run on the book, but I’m willing to bet this is an element Simonson either meant to play with or of which she approved. After all, when she came back to retcon the entire Higgins run out of existence, she made sure to explicitly retain the mindfix.)

Now, given that loved ones buying implausible excuses is par for the course in a super-hero book, why the need to introduce a secondary science fiction element to explain such antics in Power Pack? I think this comes back, again, to the underpinnings of the book, of Power Pack as a group of children facing the realities of an adult world.

(From Power Pack #26, pencils Jon Bogdanove, inks Bob Wiacek.)

One of those realities, one that none of us can ever escape, is that we will always be our parents’ babies. It doesn’t matter how old we get, how much responsibility we take on, how many times we save the bloody universe, we’re still children. Their babies. No amount of evidence will ever truly change that, and forcing the issues is, well, never pretty.

Power Pack is a book about children entering into an adult world. In this case, “adult” is represented by the super-hero world of the Marvel Universe. Power Pack’s networking within that community explains their general failure to maintain secrecy there. When you get right down to it, you want respected adults to know who you are. But no matter how many people Power Pack know, no matter how many admirable saves they make, Power Pack’s parents, through no fault of their own, will always see them as their babies. The mindfix here is the super-science trapping that matches the other fantastic elements overlaying the books tale of the journey into maturity.

Original version published at Trickle of Consciousness

Juggling Holsteins

It’s been just about long enough that I’ve recovered the energy to do a show again, and one of my favorite local directors is directing something that seems fun and has several roles I think I’d enjoy trying on, so Sunday and Monday I signed up and lined up for Manatee Players’ cattle call auditions. Which, I’ll admit, isn’t my favorite kind of audition setup.

Manatee’s having some extra growing pains, as well. Running shows in their two performing spaces, with only one on site rehearsal space also in use, there really isn’t any good time or place to hold callbacks except on the dark nights of Sunday and Monday. The result was a lot of juggling after the cattle call, as the common pool of folks called back for multiple shows were jumping between rooms all at the same time. I can’t imagine that did either actors or directors any favors when it came to trying to focus in and narrow down choices.

I’m lead to believe the cattle call scenario is relatively common in professional theatre, where multiple directors sit down to watch the same batch of auditioners, so that they can cast their shows from a larger, common talent pool. A fair number of my working actor friends, for example, have taken part in the auditions at SETC. I’m less than convinced of the wisdom of the practice in community theatre, however, for a variety of reasons.

Look, I’m on board with the idea that you want volunteer community performers to think professionally, insofar as I’m using that word to mean they’re going to be committed and responsible. Mickey and Judy never could have put together Busby Berkeley extravaganzas if all those wacky kids were just a bunch of flakes. However, this whole cattle call setup tends to take the idea a little further than it seems to me is really warranted.

Here’s the thing: professional cattle call auditions are held for a bunch of working or want-to-be-working actors. They’re often there not just for specific shows, but to, you know, get a job. As such, it’s a little easier to cherry pick from the bunch, since no matter what show is involved, it’s another resume credit as well as bill-paying money.

I don’t think the same applies as widely in community theatre. The actors, for one thing, aren’t getting paid.1 Or, rather, their compensation is of a much more ephemeral nature. Some folks don’t mind what show they’re doing so long as they’re doing something, but most people, especially around here where there are so many shows going on simultaneously, are auditioning for a specific show because that’s the one they want to spend their time on. That’s the one they think will net out the emotional dividends with which they’re paying off the creditors: exhaustion and muscle aches and vocal trouble and communal illness.

Certainly there are times when a director might entice someone who was interested in one show to sign on with another, but in general, people have an expressed interest when they show up, and without the A Chorus Line “oh god, I neeed this job!” motivation, they aren’t especially likely to jump across.

The result for directors in this case is sitting through a bunch of auditions by performers who have no interest (and, depending on the mix of shows, are objectively wrong for) their shows. And even if they happen to be right for another show, you’re fighting against a strong disinterest with little in the way of incentive.

Actors, meanwhile, trudge through longer lines and waits, mixed in as they are with people who normally wouldn’t be in line for each other’s auditions. Then there’s often that awkward movement audition (thankfully absent this last time), which is usually just as under-serving of any choreographers, who either have to add in dance styles which don’t mesh, or come up with something so generic that it gives little indication other than “these people can keep a beat, now let’s have a second dance callback.”

It’s a frustrating bit of muddle, which leads just as often to unintended awkwardness as it does to epiphanous casting. I remember one cattle call where the director of one of the shows I wasn’t interested in actually heckled me from the audience: “What are you going to do if you don’t get the show you want?”

My answer at the time was, “Catch up on sleep.” Which was both true and seemed the most politic. But I remember feeling unnecessarily embarrassed for both of us. I wondered: would I be getting a harassing phone call at home if the theatre hadn’t mixed the auditions in the first place, and I had simply never come to her audition? Doubtful. But the melting pot philosophy forced a much more direct assertion of disinterest on my part, and the result wasn’t fun for either of us.

1. I’m speaking in general. Most of us know there are ringers pulling paychecks in our area community theatre. We’re just not supposed to talk about it, because that, too, is “professional.” In any case, the majority of us are doing it for free, so the point is still valid for this particular nattering.

Should I Ask If Kid President Is an Unpaid ‘Acting Intern’?

I subscribed to Upworthy‘s RSS feed a while ago when friends kept linking me there to see things I thought were worth seeing. It seemed only reasonable to, in turn, pop on over to SoulPancake when I realized I’d seen their logo on a lot of the Upworthy video links I’d liked.

While I was looking for SoulPancake’s RSS feed, however, I happened on the news section which is currently topped with this:

We are looking for smart, friendly, hard-working people to help us around the SoulPancake office. Interns must be students, currently enrolled in a degree-granting program at an accredited university. Interns should be able to commit to a minimum of 10 hours per week, and up to 20 hours, for a minimum of 3 months. Internships are unpaid, but spaces are limited.

Emphasis mine. Look, I’m not harping directly on unpaid internships, mind you. However, there are very specific legal guidelines regarding what those have to entail. You can download a pdf of the full regulations here or hit the Department of Labor’s fact sheet online here, but for now we’ll just use the compact list:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Numbers 3 and, especially, 4 are the most relevant here. Pointing to only the elements in the responsibilities lists which seem most noteworthy:

  • Business Development interns have to do brand and advertisement research and set up meetings / calls.
  • Community Engagement interns are supposed to not only moderate, but initiate conversation threads on the site and on YouTube.
  • Graphic Design interns will “conceptualize and design graphics,” as well as “[p]hotograph and illustrate for various projects.”
  • UI Interns will be “Designing real-world phone apps and websites that will be used by thousands.”
  • Marketing interns are tasked with building contact lists, developing content lists, creating marketing materials, and if none of that is explicit enough for you, they get a separate line item which literally says “create original content.”
  • I just … look: whether you agree with the law or not, I think it’s pretty explicit. When you have people performing your primary business for you, you simply no longer get to pretend you don’t have a business relationship with an unpaid intern.

    Trying to do so is especially uncomfortable if you’re the kind of business which is building its brand around pep talks to teachers and students with taglines like “What are you teaching the world?”

    Phone-y Fiddling

    Inspired a lot by these minimalist super-icon iPhone wallpapers, and the fact that my old wallpaper and lock screen didn’t play as nice with iOS 7, I started playing at trying to make some Power Pack symbol wallpapers. So far, I’ve managed to do the boys:

     photo Gee_zpsfc284095.png

    Gee is all square edges, of course, so he was relatively straightforward. Mass Master took a bit more mucking with, but I like the way it turned out:

     photo MassMaster_zps87d36ae0.png

    I was trying Energizer’s symbol earlier, but it’s been giving me fits. Two is all I really need. But, well: completist obsessive, here, so I’ll probably still be trying do the girls at some point, as well.

    Now Hear This

    I’ve been wanting to watch this TED talk since I saw the link on Upworthy, but only recently had the time to spare. I’ve been fascinated by hearing voices and schizophrenia for a while (part of the metaphor of Crowd over in Spotlight is a more literal conglomeration of voices, to use the most recent example). Research is always good, and even better when it takes a look at things from a different angle. This definitely seems to be a very different kind of interpretation of the phenomenon than the standard narrative:

    From there, I found Intervoice: The International Community for Hearing Voices. I’ve only read a little so far, but I suspect I’ll be digging in as time goes on. It seems like, certainly, a supportive resource for those living with a ‘nonstandard’ mental process.

    I’m not really qualified to speak to the medical / psychological elements, but I don’t imagine it’s ever a bad idea to find out you aren’t alone in the world, even and especially if you find you aren’t alone inside your own head. And removing the stigma of mental illness needs these kinds of resources to help those who aren’t living with such conditions understand the factors involved.

    Cold Read Relationship Advice

    Another day, another bit of filler pretending to be content. While that’s probably true of me, it’s especially true of Yahoo! I ran across this one t’other day:

    How to tell if your honey’s being dishonest.

    Is your girlfriend playing with her hair? Forget split ends: she might be lying! Did your boyfriend just compliment you? OMG: lying! is totally something you should suspect, and not the hours you spent trying to look amazing. Oh, and any change in the speed of your significant’s other’s response may be “a hint that something is up.” Forget about dragging after a bad day or excitement for what you’e about to do: lying! is the answer.

    I. Hate. This. Nonsense.

    Seriously, these sorts of articles seem to be far less about offering people advice for having reasonable, adult, responsible relationships, and far more about notching up the paranoia to increase sales in relationship-fixing literature.

    “Is someone playing with her hair? No? Wringing hands? No? Hmmm. Sweating? Really? Okay: Now someone must have answered questions more slowly or quickly than you remember, yes? Ah! I knew it. The spirits talked to me … er, I mean, the studies. Yes. The studies.”

    Argh. This kind of article, which just sort of throws everything at the wall, feels way too much like “Did someone in the audience lose a relative who’s name starts with D or P?” It’s basically the relationship version of a psychic cold reading. And it has about the same level of credibility.