Friday, December 11, 2009

Merlin

The wife and I are big fans of fantasy and sci-fi television. We try to seek out anything that has a vast supernatural conspiracy or a fleet of alien ships or a youth with a magical secret and epic destiny.

Thus, we have been watching the British series Merlin. It's been a weird ride and at the moment I'm sad to say that we're watching it for the entertainment value - just not the entertainment the writers had in mind.

The first series had a lot of promise. It establishes that the main character, Merlin, is something of a magical prodigy. Under the guidance of Camelot's court physician, Merlin must learn the secrets of magic in a kingdom where practicing magic is punishable by death. In one episode he saves young Prince Arthur's life and in reward, King Uther rewards him by making him Arthur's personal servant.

The most interesting choice has been the Lady Morgana. Anyone who knows even a little bit about the Arthurian legends (which includes me - really I only know a little bit) knows that Morgana is something of a villain. But in this nice little series she's the daughter of one of Uther's most trusted knights - a knight who fell in battle long ago and so Uther has been raising her as though she were his own. She's obviously got some magical talent manifesting itself in the form of prophetic dreams, but isn't really aware of it. Also, she isn't hard on the eyes.

Uther Pendragon is a treat - or perhaps I should be gushing about how wonderful it is to see Anthony Head in anything. Mr. Head is too good for this show. As Uther he portrays a king who feels a duty to protect his kingdom from the evils of sorcery - a zeal influenced over his own guilt over a spell of his own gone wrong with tragic consequences in the past.

By far the strangest choice has been Guinevere. Everything to do with her. There are three really strange choices and I don't know which is the most puzzling. The fact that she's a serving girl, that she's not terribly pretty or that she's black. So she's a peasant whereas the various Guinevere myths have her being of one noble birth or another. The actress, Angel Coulby, is pretty enough but not jaw-droppingly attractive - which is really odd when other characters act like she's the most beautiful person ever made. One wonders if her role was mixed up with Katie McGrath's. She is also black, which not only Guinevere certainly wasn't, which is a surprisingly populous heritage in old Camelot. Plenty of people emigrating to Camelot from the African continent and the middle east to Camelot - and apparently for generations given the complete absence of anything but modern British accents.

The first series opens up as very much Camelot 90210 with disappointingly uncreative monsters. The Producers of Merlin take two routes with monsters. They either take an everyday animal and make it very large or they take a mythical creature and make it boring.

Letting things go has been my greatest challenge. Each and every episode flies in the face of anything we know about history. Everyday average peasants in this show have a bizarre preoccupation with bettering their stations in life as though the thought crossed any of their minds. Here's a lesson from history by a layman (me): So you're living in the middle ages and you want to know what you're going to do with your life. Well, are you a woman? If you are then you will get married and have babies and perform labor that will never earn you any respect, or if your parents have enough money but you can't be married, a nunnery will buy your dowry. Are you a man? Well then you'll probably do what your father did or he'll convince an artisan to take you on as an apprentice and you'll do whatever he did. Yet in this show Peasants are wandering around hoping to prove themselves and improve their station in life, having existential crises about identity and destiny. People from that time didn't worry about what they would do with their futures; they barely thought of themselves.

Then there's impertinence. In every episode you see the commoners getting extremely familiar and demanding of Arthur, Uther and Morgana and the only peasant who ever gets into any real trouble for it is...Merlin! Every episode I see people saying things to their rulers that would have gotten actual peasants slapped at best, executed at worst.

So every episode I'm rolling my eyes and clenching my jaw and mocking the screen and then suddenly, holy shit suddenly, in the last few episodes of the season, it becomes a good show! Arthur and Merlin start to develop a friendship heavy with portent. Morgana and Uther share a moment that strengthens their bond and makes it obvious that right and wrong aren't usually simple concepts. Unfortunately overcoming the Big Bad seemed an afterthought to the writers and was accomplished easily and without any of the consequences Merlin was warned of.

Shelly and I were very excited to start the second series. We were immediately disappointed. They took all that good will that they had built up with us over the first series, pantsed it, and laughed at it.

Morgana has begun displaying a magical talent of her own and for absolutely no good reason the ancient and wily dragon and the wise old physician and the wise old physician's eyebrow all agree that she shouldn't be told that she has magic powers. Her magic is frightening her, driving her to take rash actions and coloring her perceptions of people, and they think she should be kept in the dark! Why? Because she's a girl! The writers don't know how to make a woman who is in reasonable, measured control of her power.

Bradley James as Arthur is not an unattractive boy. However, somehow in the second series he manages to find numerous excuses for shirtless dialogues.

Uther, in a stunning display of his inability to learn from history, always refuses at first to believe that the threat to his kingdom is magical. If it's brought to his attention he denies it until it's either impossible or too important to the plot to deny any further.

The biggest problem with the second series so far is that the writers are striving for a zero-sum result at the end of every episode. This is a thing that happens in television shows were nothing is lost and nothing is gained so that they can start the next episode fresh and in familiar territory. It's frustrating because very little if any character development happens. The series premiere was an excellent example of why it's a problem in a show where characters are supposed to be developing. In the first episode Merlin must defeat an ancient and powerful sorcerer, reincarnated in a new body. He goes to the dragon in the cave and the dragon promises to give him a spell that has never been taught to any mortal man. The writers could have really gone somewhere with that. One spell? I was excited. What would it do? Destroy the sorcerer's soul? Absorb him? Overwhelm him with pre-human magic? Nope, it put the evil sorcerer back in the little crystal that he came from in the beginning of the episode. Zero sum.

So we're going to keep watching it. No worries there. No doubt they're perfectly happy to know that we're watching, they don't need to know why we're watching, but for the sake of posterity (which is all this blog is for so far) at least half of the reason we keep watching is to mock it.

Thanks,

Christian

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Americans and Canadians

When I was in high school one of the issues of the day was the Americanization of Canada. Pundits and experts wrung their hands and spoke in hushed but urgent tones of the glut of American entertainment on our television, radio and movies. Radio and television stations in Canada are mandated by law to include a certain percentage of Canadian content, so we did get some exposure, but if we were going to be honest, while Canadian music had an urgency and goodly amounts of veritas, our television and especially our movies were usually uninteresting and filled more with Good Intentions than artistic expression or even the calculated shock and tantalization so typical of American television.

We were going to be culturally absorbed. America has a dramatic history filled with sedition, rebellion, violence, the conquering of a frontier. I don't know about most people, but during high school I had very little idea of the history of Canada.

So, like most kids, I knew more about American history than Canadian history, but there was one thing I knew really well: Television. I definitely spent most of my free time watching television. I sat down and cataloged the country of origin for every channel from 2 to 50 and it was about half Canadian. Probably more than half. I didn't see what the fuss was about then and I don't even worry about it a little bit now.

America, instead of forcing Canada to culturally conform, is changing so rapidly that America and Canada are becoming distinctly different.

I think the biggest difference between our nations is universal health care. It's so much a part of our culture that a lot of us don't give it much thought. I'm grateful for it and it took Michael Moore's movie, Bowling for Columbine to put it into a quote that could sum it up for me: "Everyone has the right to live." Even the most conservative orthodox economists among us wouldn't get rid of universal health care. Everyone knows someone who's better now because they were able to just go to a hospital and get something fixed. This means hardly anyone knows someone who's gone bankrupt because they couldn't pay their medical bills. I think this is a stark, stark difference between our two cultures.

Another aspect is language. Americans are simplifying English, turning it, gradually, into a new language called 'American'. It's small right now and the process is much slower than it has been in the past. I don't know exactly who's responsible for it, be it calculated marketing or stupidity or irreverence but in the U.S. 'through' is becoming 'thru'. Well, why not? More power to them as far as I'm concerned. It's an antiquated way of spelling, really, when you look at it it's a seven-letter word with three silent letters. In the past, the way language has evolved was when a small section of a larger group moved away from the larger group and was geographically separated. Then the new group would start developing unique lingo and as time wore on, the original group would develop unique lingo too, then lingo would start to become language and after a few hundred years, they would have trouble communicating with each other. This is harder to do now with instant global communication, but it is happening.

The third way is genetic heritage, particularly skin pigmentation. Americans are not only hyper-aware of skin color, they're incredibly self-conscious about that awareness. Racial tension runs deep in their culture. It doesn't here. Not at all. I'm not saying there are no bigots in Canada, there certainly are, but very little that would give a rapper cause to take to the mic in protest.

Point is, the more time goes by, the more different our two countries become and at the moment I'm quite okay with that.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sometimes people are okay.

When you find someone's wallet, do you raid it for cash?

Sometimes people find it odd that I don't. I happen to have found a wallet a couple of years ago. I saw it on the road as I was driving past in my car and I stopped to pick it up. Its owner went to the local junior high school so that's where I brought it. The young lady got it back and was quite grateful.

Of course, less than a year before the same thing happened to me. While traveling I left my wallet on the roof of my car after a coffee stop and lost it on the on-ramp. Someone picked that thing up and got it back to me. No money was salvaged, but then again, I only had coins and they sprayed all over the QEW.

On a recent trip down to Niagara to visit my in-laws I lost a library book. We were sleeping on couches and surviving on caffeine and I had slept little and was not yet caffeinated. I was getting my kid into the car so I had to put my book down, which I did, on the roof of the dang car. That was the last time I saw it.

That was a few weeks ago and I was really bummed, not only because we'd have to pay the library to replace the book (cost of the book plus restocking fee.) but because I was really enjoying that book (Climbing Mount Improbable - Richard Dawkins).

I don't know what the library system is like in your town (provided you live anywhere but my town), but around here I can access my library account over the web. I checked my list today and that book isn't there anymore. Just gone. This means one of two things; either some sort of incredibly unlikely clerical error has left me scott free or someone went to the trouble of picking that book up and turning it in to a library.

I'm off the hook and I have some anonymous do-gooder to thank for it.

So, thanks anonymous do-gooder.

Christian

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sometimes I hate the internet.

I enjoy the funny pictures people on the internet produce. Sometimes they're so absurd, hilarious and wonderful.

One thing that always snaps me back out of joy, however, is the undercurrent of misogyny. Actually, 'undercurrent' isn't quite strong enough a word, because it's not subtle. What I'm specifically blogging about now is the average internet user's hatred for any woman larger than size eight.

There are certain things that we, as individuals, are attracted to in the opposite sex. In my previous blog post I wrote briefly about the book Fat: A Misunderstood Ingredient, in it the author draws attention to an interesting shift in what is considered attractive in women. Before food was readily available everywhere in North American, plump women were greatly sought after. Now that food is plentiful and plumpness is easy to attain, the desires have shifted to an admiration of skinniness.

There is a culture of nastiness all over the internet, a clamor that calls for the shaming of anyone 'overweight'. It seems it's not enough to simply express admiration for what we consider attractive, we must let everyone know how disgusted we are by anyone whose tummy isn't tight as a drum.

Now, these expressions of disgust and loathing from anyone trying to get a laugh at the expense of someone they consider fat come from an interesting place. What I've discovered recently is that most young men (and young men are mostly responsible for this behavior) are primarily concerned with what their peers think of them. They themselves might find a little body fat very exciting but are afraid their friends will marginalize them.

So what I'm saying is that it's all very sad. Non-skinny girls will feel sad at being mocked for the amusement of skinnies and the ones doing the mocking are, at least some of the time, denying their own desires for fear of what people will say about them.

The image that brought this on was this

claiming that Ed Hardy clothes make you look fat. Look everyone Ms. Spears is looking healthier than ever! Ha ha ha!

It's so pointless.

Thanks,

Christian

Friday, November 13, 2009

What I have to do.

I enjoy reading things about self-improvement. How to have more energy, a more positive attitude, more ambition, and the like. Here's what I know based on the latest information I've absorbed.

I must eat as little processed sugar as possible.

I must cut back on the coffee.

It is better to eat well-marbled meat than lean meat. (fat helps you digest protein and staves off hunger)

I must sleep 10 hours per night.

I must exercise regularly.

Evidently sugars make you fatter and unhealthier than anything else. In addition they seem to inspire mood swings in me. My temper becomes much shorter and as such I have learned that I had best not have any chocolate or cookies until after Cole, my son, has gone to bed. Lest I take my temper out on him.

For a little while I was obsessed with a particular snack. I learned it from my sister and she called it a Funky Monkey. You take a banana and peel it. Then you take a wrap and spread peanut butter on it. Then you wrap the wrap around the banana and slice it into inch-long pieces. Only I didn't slice it, I just ate it. Also I didn't use peanut butter, I used Nutella. I was having between two and three of these a day and I'm embarrassed to say that I grew a new stretch mark on my belly.

As for fat, well, read this book. http://www.salon.com/mwt/food/eat_drink/2008/09/25/jennifer_mclagan/

Turns out that since the 1970s since experts have been pushing us to eat fewer animal fats and more vegetable fats the numbers of death from heart disease have gone down, but the incidents of heart disease have not.

Apparently athletes in serious training are instructed by their coaches to get 10 hours of sleep a night. Can you imagine? Can you imagine only having 14 hours a day to accomplish everything you need to do? And yet by all accounts your quality of life during those 14 hours would improve. You would have more energy and greater clarity of thought.

Well we all secretly know about coffee, don't we? It's one of those socially acceptable drugs. Like alcohol. It does something in our brains and our brains decide that since this chemical does such a good job at something it normally has to work hard for, why bother doing it?

We've all been told since we were children that regular exercise is ever so important. All that good stuff, burning off excess energy so we don't store it as fat. It grants us, again, more energy and greater clarity of thought.

An experiment was performed recently where two elementary school classes were given tests. In one class the students just took the test, in the other class the students were given physical exercises to accomplish before given the test. The test was an academic one and the students who exercised first scored, on average, higher.

So out of the list above guess which thing doesn't inspire terror in me?

I am a caffeine addict. Why should I go through all that withdrawal in order to avoid something I like so much?

I love chocolate, but it's admittedly easier to avoid when one of your major day-to-day concerns is poverty. Also, Funky Monkeys are lousy in winter - the bananas aren't ripe and don't ripen well in these cold sun-weak days.

If I wanted to get 10 hours of sleep a night and still wake up when Cole wakes up, I'd have to go to sleep at 8:30, which necessarily means half an hour or so of downtime leading up to it. That Cole goes to sleep around 7:15 makes an early bedtime entirely unacceptable. I'm only free to watch my favorite TV shows and play my favorite video games after he goes to bed and having maybe 30 to 45 minutes to do so isn't going to happen.

On the other hand the experts say that my waking hours will be ever so much better.

Exercising regularly is something I actually kind of would like to do, but again, only so many hours in the day. Also I haven't really found something I enjoy enough to keep doing it on a regular basis. The last time I did was when I was taking Kung Fu lessons back in 2001. That was fun, but I was paying a dear price for the privilege.

On the other hand, the advice to eat more animal fats? Well, bring that on quickly and often!

Christian

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Introductions are in order.

Well, hello.

Picture me, if you will, sitting by a fire, smoking a pipe, reading a book, and pleasantly surprised to see you.

My name is Christian Steenhorst-Baker. I'm 32 years old. I'm a stay-at-home dad. I've been married for five years and my son is 3 years old.

I'm artistically talented and trained, and over the next few months I intend to ramp up productivity. (I've been intending that for years, but I'll say it again)

I'm a social and political leftist, believing we all should have a right to complete universal health care and higher education.

I'm an atheist. I find the real scientific explanations for how things are and have come to be satisfying enough that it's a non-issue for me. I could literally go on and on and on about this, but I wont' because I'm genuinely nervous about alienating friends, relatives, and future prospective employers. I am not, however, going to hide it.

I wanted to write an incredibly long introduction, but I don't plan on telling everyone I know about this blog. Strangers probably won't be interested in the rather ordinary details of my life.

So here I am. I shall try to update once or twice a day and see where this goes. Right now it's just a general-purpose blog that may become so boring as to be featured on comedy websites as so-sad-it's-funny fodder, but perhaps I'll pick a topic one day soon.

Thanks,

Christian