vendredi 20 mai 2011

Kingdom of Madness

I just clicked on my computer to discover sad news: Randy "Mach Man" Savage is dead. He died from a car accident, having had a heart attack then losing control of his car. His wife, Lynn, had minor injuries. From all reports, he was happy, having just celebrated his one year anniversary with his wife.

While Hulk Hogan gave wrestling the cross-over appeal in the 1980s to become a global entertainment form, Savage was one of the few wrestlers who kept fans ringside, whether in their homes or at arenas, glued to the action in the ring. He was the technical half of the Superpowers, the man who stole the show the night Hogan slammed Andre in a beautiful match with Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. He was Shawn Michaels before Shawn Michaels. He made us believe that a little man could take on all of Hulkamania and hence the world.

While Savage was stellar in the ring, he was the champion of the mic, delivering insane promos that bordered on the poetic. He was a wordsmith as much as he was a matsmith. He taught me the importance of the "larger than life," the creative break with reality, the ambition to chase the dragon of inspiration, to bow down before the kingdom of madness. To say he will be missed will be to say we will miss a part of ourselves, the generation whose childhood hero wore cowboy hats, sunglasses, and entered the arena to "Pomp and Circumstance." He lives on as the part of us that's willing to go beyond the realms of possibility, in art and in life, the part of us that's cocky but loveable, the part of us that will do anything for his lover.

And as you knock on the gates of the kingdom of madness, know that you've left behind a legacy in and out of the squared circle. I hope they crown you prince, for you've done your service, shown each of us how to be a little more mad too. Oh yeah.

jeudi 19 mai 2011

Redemptive Sacrifice and Spoilers.

Lately, everything I watch or read ends in a redemptive sacrifice. After becoming enchanted by the character of Doyle in Angel (my wife and I finished marathoning Buffy and had to move on to something), he throws himself in the mortal-killing light of a machine to save Angel, Cordelia, and a bunch of half-demons. The night before, I watched an episode of Supernatural where Sam's fling had to die because she was a werewolf. This one was more complicated because she chose the death (unlike Oz in BtVS), but Sam also chose to be the man with the gun. So to save others, he killed the woman he loved (at least for the episode), and she, to save others, asked for death. This episode doesn't even touch on how many times the Winchesters sell their soul to save someone or another. And then there's the plot arc of The Astonishing X-Men that ended with, spoiler alert, Kitty Pryde phasing herself into a gigantic missile to save Earth but doom herself to death or worse. At least in that situation, I have the comfort in knowing that in comics, no one really dies.

These instances come after I planned a screenplay that ends in redemptive sacrifice. I certainly had no illusions that this trope is novel. Hell, it started Christianity, right? But the use of the death as a model for redemption sinks its teeth deep into the heart of humankind. Just sitting here, writing this blog, I can name hundreds of narratives that end the hero's journey with a plunge into the abyss, especially one big novel to film adaptation that ends this summer (if you're concerned with not knowing the end of huge narratives that are immensely popular, don't dwell on this sentence!). But many of these, previous sentence and the largest Western religion included, don't actually end in the cemetery, but when the hero triumphs one last time over death. Buffy did it. Twice.

The sacrifices I'm haunted by lately, ones of my own devising included, don't have that I'll be home for Christmas endings. Doyle really died. And he doesn't come back, not even in spectral form. In fact, the actor, Glenn Quinn died a little over two years after his onscreen death from a heroin overdose. When I read that bit of news from 2002 (I'm catching up!), I transfered my emotions concerning Doyle onto Mr. Quinn, and felt doubly the pain of not seeing him banter with Cordelia, of knowing that he'll never have dinner with her, that he'll never save the world again. What this says about the state of literary tropes, I don't know.

But I do know that we invest a lot into our fictional friends. And when they're gone, another kind of abyss opens up and we have no choice but to populate it with more characters. I've become a sort of character junkie lately. And while reality is our nation-wide addiction, I still sentimentally clutch to the moments when someone's scripted behavior moves me. I wonder if it's always been this way, whether in the 19th people were outraged at the, spoiler alert, death of Anna Karenina or even Miss Havisham. Or whether once they'd read the fictional last rites of these people, that they immediately sought to find new books and plays to fill the gap left by the characters the way when my family's dog, Kal, died when I was in 9th grade, we immediately bought another Kal.

I hope they did.

samedi 14 mai 2011

RE: Blogging

Wow. It's been two years. If I had any readers before, they're gone now. But I'm starting afresh, same topics as before: culture, the disintegration thereof and how that can become beautiful too, poetry, pop culture, and the like.

I'm about to finish my second year teaching at Cornell. I'm just waiting on final projects from both my creative and expository students. I'd like to point anyone who arrives here to the blog that my students have been maintaining all semester: Barbaric Poetries. In it, you will find posts about video games, classical art, professional wrestling, Osama bin Laden, Blood Meridian, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among other topics. The goal of my expository writing class was to explore our relationship to aestheticized violence, and my students did a marvelous job extending that conversation outside the classroom. In the fall, I'm teaching a course on Superheroines and Gendered Violence. In the spring, I'm teaching that course and a course on Contemporary Poetry and Hip Hop. Both of these writing seminars will use Barbaric Poetries to explore different topics that come up.

It's good to see students this way, and I hope other teachers begin to see the value of blogs in pedagogy. Instead of forcing students to comment of subjects they're half-interested in, they have the opportunity to write about what they want to, keeping them interested in a class they chose to sign up for. They're more at ease, more engaged. The best part is that I get to see them in their own element, seeing what interests they have, what preoccupations trouble them. My first summer teaching, while explaining existentialism, a student had said something along the lines of "I don't know what's the deal with all this existentialism, teach. I'm pretty happy with the way things are." That statement and dismissal gave me the false impression that my Cornell students were nothing like me. This blog teaches me that my assumption was wrong, that not only are my students like me, but they are concerned, critical thinkers.

Also, that experience has inspired me to take up the mantle and cowl once more and write in the darkness of a Newark night. Or whatever. But I hope to spew forth my words in this venue for a little while longer.