Horizon: Zero Dawn Log 2

I’m not sure how long I’ll be playing Horizon: Zero Dawn, but I figure that while it’s taking up my time, I’ll try to parse out some thoughts that I’m having as I go along.

This isn’t foreboding at all…

After about ten hours of play (I think; I’m not keeping close track, and aside from an extended session last Saturday while hanging out with friends, I’ve only had time to play an hour here and there in the last week), I’m starting to gather a bit more about the story.  The early hours revolve around Aloy’s effort to rejoin her tribe, the Nora, after being raised as an outcast from birth.  Aloy isn’t just trying to rejoin her tribe, however; she wants to win the Proving and earn a boon from the Nora Matriarchs which she intends to use to find out about her origins.

This is the last moment before things go bad for Aloy. I mean, more bad than they have been already.

The Proving goes according to plan with Aloy winning in a dramatic fashion, but before the concluding ceremony can take place, the braves-to-be are ambushed by cultists who have technology that allows them to co-opt the wild machines.  Pretty much all the new braves die except for Aloy, who is saved by her foster father Rost sacrificing himself to protect her from a massive explosion.  Aloy recovers inside the mountain that the Nora call the All-Mother (they believe the mountain is the source of all life which, given the sci-fi setting, isn’t actually that far-fetched) where she learns that the cultists were seeking her out because of her resemblance to another woman with an over ninety-eight percent genetic similarity (Aloy’s Focus is a handy little plot device).  Inside the mountain there’s some kind of advanced shelter that recognizes Aloy’s genetic markers, but doesn’t grant her access because of her slight dissimilarity with the woman in the data from the cultists.  Matriarch Teersa, who has been Aloy’s key advocate among the Nora, interprets all of this through the Nora’s All-Mother religion, and decides that Aloy needs to go on a quest to purify herself so she can enter the ‘sanctum.’

I’m calling it now: Aloy’s a clone.

And that’s how we get the justification for Aloy leaving Nora lands (there’s a taboo against members of the tribe leaving the valley) to explore the rest of the world.  Besides being a perfectly cromulent way to start a video game quest (you don’t need that much reason for anything in a video game to be honest), it’s also a really interesting take on the tension between scientific thought and faith.  Aloy has been established up to this point to be something of a skeptic among the Nora; being an outcast from birth and denied most of the social conditioning that other Nora receive, she’s less wary of the past’s technology and more inclined to be critical of the Nora’s metaphysical beliefs.  Once she discovers that All-Mother is just another ruin from the Metal World, Aloy’s feelings about her tribe’s faith, which was already ambivalent, appears to reach a nadir.  Aloy serves as a proxy for the player whose perspective on the Nora is that they’re misunderstanding technology that they don’t even realize actually is technology.  Teersa’s reaction to all of this is particularly interesting, since she clearly has a preferred interpretation that assigns metaphysical significance to Aloy’s interaction with the All-Mother but doesn’t seem to have any illusions about All-Mother’s technological nature.  It’s an interesting commentary on the elasticity of faith and its ability to peacefully coexist with scientific knowledge.  I expect that this tension will be a significant motif moving forward through the plot as Aloy explores other lands and the ways that other tribes have learned to cope with the world in which they live.

Um… yeah, cause Aloy’s totally a clone of someone who was inside this shelter.

From a gameplay perspective, Horizon continues to be highly engaging.  I mentioned before that I’m hoping for a twist on the skill tree concept, but I don’t think that’s coming.  This is only a minor disappointment, because the variety of strategies available for hunting machines is incredibly satisfying.  I prefer to do stealth builds in games when they’re available, and the game has been pleasantly accommodating in that regard.  While equipment and weapons can be customized to emphasize different traits, I haven’t built Aloy’s gear in a way that provides much in the way of strong offense or defense.  Traps are quickly becoming my preferred method of taking down big machines, mostly because they carry the almost unfair advantage of allowing the player to inflict damage on prey without receiving direct aggression; Aloy is agile, but soft and squishy, and she can’t take much punishment in head-on confrontations (especially not when I’m playing, as I still feel relatively clumsy with the controls).  At the moment I’m enjoying making use of explosive trip wires; they can be set from stealth cover, and if a machine fails to trip them, I’ve invested in the skill that allows me to pick unused traps back up into my inventory.  I want to play more with Aloy’s mobility (besides sneaking she has a decent range of other methods to traverse terrain that seem designed to encourage highly spectacular fights with machines), but in the early hours of the game that doesn’t feel feasible quite yet.

Don’t… look… down.

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Reading “Crushed (3 of 3)”

Like with previous arcs of Ms. Marvel, the culminating issue here is pretty much all climax (it’s actually technically a worse offender than the other stories so far, as the denouement is confined to a single page where none of the fallout is explored beyond the immediate emotional impact of Kamala’s experience).  On the flip side, I have to admit that I really dig what’s going on with this issue.  Miyazawa’s action sequences, set to alternate between Bruno’s rush to get to New Attilan and Kamala’s attempts to escape, are a lot more engaging than what I typically see when Alphona is doing the art (Alphona, I love you, but your panels are crammed with stuff that detracts from easily following an action sequence).  On top of solid visuals, this issue is rife with some fun, goofy sci-fi shout outs and a pretty deep exploration of Kamala’s feelings of responsibility in the immediate aftermath of a completely non-comic-book form of assault.

This cover has absolutely no grounding in the story, but it’s a cute concept, and you can’t really complain about a Kris Anka cover. (Cover by Kris Anka. Image credit: Comic Vine)

The issue opens with Kamala reeling from the revelation that her brand new boyfriend, Kamran, is in league with an Inhuman named Lineage who has designs to usurp Medusa’s throne and run New Attilan as an Inhuman supremacist community (Lineage relies mostly on insinuation instead of explicit explanation, but based on the dreck that Kaboom was spouting back in issue #13, it’s pretty easy to gather what Lineage’s deal is).  In the first couple of pages, we get right into exploring Kamala’s internal state following her abduction by Kamran; Lineage lays it on thick with a potent combination of direct victim blaming and hitting hard on the way society at large will view Kamala’s actions leading up to her current predicament.  Wilson’s going hard on the problem of victim blaming and the fallout that comes from speaking up about harassment or assault (this topic is incredibly timely in the wake of the #MeToo moment that’s spread across social media this week).  Although as readers we’re privy to the inner journey Kamala has taken over the last two issues with her feelings towards Kamran, and we can see how she felt swept up in the moment in a way that will look to others like she was inviting Kamran to violate her boundaries (meditate for a moment on the logical paradox of inviting someone to violate your boundaries; it’s nonsense on its face, but that doesn’t stop people from assuming it’s exactly what victims do).  Enlightened readers understand that there is no way Kamala is at fault for Kamran’s actions; she was led to believe he was trustworthy, and he took advantage of that trust.  Still, Wilson deftly captures the sense of self doubt that pervades a victim’s thoughts when that first suggestion that they could have done something differently to prevent their trauma arrives.  It’s this moment that marks “Crushed” as one of my favorite Ms. Marvel stories, because it sympathizes with victims of trauma in a way that’s accessible to younger readers without being tawdry or exploitative the way that discussions of things like sexual assault can potentially become in fiction.

I wish I had the time and energy to discuss this panel. It’s such a chilling depiction of a victim being retraumatized. (Artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Balancing out the really heavy stuff related to Kamala’s coping with being abducted, this issue has some wonderful moments of levity.  I don’t know why the Coles Academic girls’ lacrosse team is carrying dinosaur bones down the hall, but I want to find out.  Bruno’s ditching a ticked off teacher is totally zany and not likely to happen in real-life without serious consequences, but it’s delightful (teachers in the Marvel universe have no chill).  The Star Trek and Star Wars gag panels are wonderfully kitschy, especially since one is done without the characters understanding what they’re riffing on, and the other is done with full knowledge of the pop culture reference.  It’s great stuff.

Why…? (Artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

This really was inevitable, if you think about it. (Artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Sure, why not? (Artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Sadly, this issue marks the end of Takeshi Miyazawa’s brief run on Ms. Marvel, and while I’ll be happy to catalog all the strangeness in Adrian Alphona’s next issue, I have to admit that I’m going to miss Miyazawa’s slightly more grounded style.

Next time, we begin the final arc of Kamala’s first volume as Ms. Marvel where the world starts to end and things stay weird in Jersey City.

So How ‘Bout That New Mutants Trailer?

I probably write this too often, but I am not a trailer person.  The culture around movie hype is more than obnoxious with the ultimate effect being obsession with these huge story events that are less satisfying than the experience of anticipation of the event.  I’ve not bothered to watch the new Star Wars trailer because I already knew I was going to go see it.  It’s Star Wars featuring Luke Skywalker and his new apprentice; of course I’m going to go see it.  There’s no need to advertise anything to me.

Contrast this attitude with the New Mutants trailer that was released over the weekend.  I’ve been pretty excited about New Mutants because the original run under Chris Claremont was one of my favorite books in the entirety of X-Men continuity (and the stuff that Louise Simonson wrote after Claremont left is really good too), and so when I heard last Thursday that a trailer was going to drop at midnight Friday morning, it was the first thing I looked up on the internet while I was getting ready for work.  Here’s the trailer in question for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet:

I had heard that the plan was to pull inspiration from the classic New Mutants story “The Demon Bear” and go full tilt into horror, and I have to admit I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, New Mutants has a strong horror pedigree, especially during Bill Sienkiewicz’s run as artist, and superhero cinema is oversaturated with action movies; on the other hand, New Mutants is a series that I totally read for the teenage feels, and I am skeptical that a movie with a horror emphasis will spend much time exploring the relationships between these characters.

There is room for hope with this last point; I just saw It the other weekend, and while I was not going as a fan but as a friend, I found myself enjoying the movie because of the strong character sketches.  In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, the New Mutants director Josh Boone said,

You can’t have a bigger nerd or fan making this. It’s so important to me. I’m not the 12-year-old who decided to write Stephen King a letter and loved Marvel Comics anymore, but I try to hold myself accountable to that kid.

The fact that he’s discussing Steven King and New Mutants in the same breath gives me some hope that he’s trying for a feel similar to what we saw in the It movie.  If that’s the case, I can tolerate the horror elements (though I freaking hate jump scares; they’re the worst, cheapest way to get the audience’s heart rate up, and I detest the feeling) and enjoy the movie for the relationships.

Roberto in his first appearance is very clearly drawn and colored as a Black person. (Image credit: Comic Vine)

Let’s set aside the fact that this is going to be a horror movie for a moment and discuss some other things that need to be pointed out.  First and foremost (and this is not a new complaint), it’s incredibly irritating that Roberto DaCosta’s Blackness has been erased in the casting for this movie.  Part of what made his original character so compelling was the fact that he was a wealthy Black Brazilian; he came from an upper class background but still had to contend with racism both in his home country and in his adoptive one (the story of how his powers first manifest hinge on him being the target of racist aggression).  Of course, this isn’t just a one-off problem with Roberto.  The doctor character in the trailer is apparently Cecilia Reyes, a long-running supporting character among the X-Men.  I didn’t know this at first because Cecilia Reyes, like Roberto, is Black in the comics (she’s of Puerto Rican heritage) and she’s not typically associated with the New Mutants.  It’s a major problem that two characters who are both Black and of Hispanic or Latinx heritage have half their identity erased through the virtue of Hollywood casting; this move combined with the removal of Xi’an Coy Manh (one of the original five New Mutants who is Vietnamese) leaves the cast of New Mutants in a much paler position than it should be.

Beyond the casting woes, I think there’s some potential for this to be a suitable adaptation of New Mutants at its weirdest.  The trailer implies that Danielle Moonster, whose mutant abilities allow her to project the deepest fears and desires of people around her, will be the focal character.  Given the horror vibe, she’s an obvious character to build a story around since it’s very possible that most of the weird stuff depicted in the trailer is actually a manifestation of her powers.  There might be some weird stuff with the presence of Illyana Rasputin (her mutant power is the ability to teleport to another dimension that’s inhabited by demons) as well, and the parallels between Rahne Sinclair’s powers and traditional depictions of lycanthropy could introduce some interesting body horror.

All in all, I am willing to give this movie a chance, but I have some major reservations, mostly related to the way it’s been cast and with my own general distaste for horror movies.  Still, I’ve been waiting for this movie for literally years now, so I guess I’m committed to the hype.

Just Starting Horizon: Zero Dawn

One of the absolute best things about moving out to Oregon is that Rachael and I are now both gainfully employed, which means that we actually have disposable income to spend as we please every month.  We’ve gotten so used to living on one income for the past eight years (that’s right, we’ve not both been fully employed at the same time since 2009) that we have relatively modest expenses.  We like to eat out semi-regularly with the company of friends, and we’re both avid consumers of our respective preferred story media, but those expenses are relatively small on a month-to-month basis.

One of the ways that I decided to celebrate our sudden increase in income was to splurge and buy a high profile video game that came out this year before the price was significantly discounted.  With the rhythm of my weekly routine, I expect I’ll be playing this title on and off for a few months.

Maybe I just haven’t played enough current gen games, but this is just pretty.

The game I selected is Horizon: Zero Dawn, an action-adventure game set in the far future on a post-apocalyptic Earth where humanity has shunned advanced technology and the wilderness is inhabited by animal-like machines.  I’ve only logged a couple hours with the game at this point, and I have a few initial thoughts.

The game’s mechanics emphasize open area combat with enemies using a mixture of agility and stealth-based tactics.  The game’s protagonist, Aloy, is a skilled hunter who makes use of a variety of weapons to take down machines for resources that can be repurposed into useful tools and items (this early in the game, her only available weapons are her bow and her spear, but there’s a strong indication that she’ll acquire more ranged weapons as the story progresses).  In the same vein as other adventure games (I’m thinking most recently of Rise of the Tomb Raider), Aloy’s combat capabilities expand through leveling up and unlocking a range of skills that make her more effective at combat.  The system is a really familiar one at this point (everyone loves a skill tree), and I wonder if there will be any interesting twist on the rather standard looking level-up system as the game progresses (I’m doubtful at this point).

The general flow of the game seems very reminiscent of games like the Fable series; Aloy wanders around interconnected open-world areas and interacts with the world’s inhabitants to receive quests and errands of different sorts.  There’s a limited conversation system that occasionally gives the player opportunities to flesh out Aloy’s personality by deciding how she will react to different scenarios, but there doesn’t appear to be any in depth decision mechanism in place that will significantly alter the path of the story.  You get to decide who Aloy is but only within the confines of small moments.  Quests appear to generally have only one outcome.  Still, a couple of hours just exploring already have me thinking that the world traversal will be very similar to Fable, although with an aesthetic that’s not as cartoonish as that series.

There’s a heavy emphasis on the visual flare of the game.  Characters are designed in a photorealistic style that’s clearly meant to take advantage of the console’s processing power (I’ve been playing the remastered versions of Uncharted series recently, and there’s a marked difference between the character models of the PS3-era games with high resolution textures and these characters that were built with PS4 hardware as the standard).  Some things about the humans’ aesthetics are strange, like the mixture of what looks to me like Celtic and African stylistic influences (all the characters wear braids or dreadlocks regardless of ethnicity, and the white characters that I’ve seen so far look more like they hale from the British Isles than anywhere else in Europe).  The blending of cultural markers in a far future isn’t that hard to imagine, but the distinct phenotypical features of different ethnicities surviving seems weird to me (I’m to believe that human culture homogenized following a massive apocalypse, but different ethnic strands remained distinct at the same time?).  Aside from the weirdness of the human designs, the look of the machines is really engaging (I admit, I was intrigued by this game because I liked the visual of a pre-industrial protagonist fighting giant mechanized animals), and environment has a warm, slightly melancholy feel.  It’s clear from the world design that we’re looking at a point in time some thousands (if not millions) of years after a major apocalyptic event that destroyed a highly advanced future civilization.  The world looks to have recovered from that event and established a new equilibrium with humans finding a way to not abuse their surroundings, but the markers of past trauma don’t fade easily.

Seriously, what is that giant thing buried in the side of the mountain?

Regarding the story itself, I don’t have much in the way of thoughts at this point.  I’m intrigued by the matriarchal culture that humanity appears to have developed in the aftermath of the event, and I want to learn more about the rules of this society (Aloy’s status as an outcast who has grown up outside the community makes that information all the more tantalizing).  I’m not yet invested in Aloy’s personal story; why she was outcast from birth is an interesting mystery, but it doesn’t have any emotional weight yet.  Beyond that, I don’t even know what the broad structure of the story will be yet (seeing as I’m still in the introductory hours, I realize it could be another ten hours of gameplay before the actual plot gets under way).  I’m hoping that it will be engaging; one of Horizon‘s other major draws for me was the prominence of its female protagonist and presence of characters of color in what appear to be significant roles in the promotional materials I’ve seen.  I don’t want this to be a big, actiony story, and I’m hoping that the post-apocalyptic setting will infuse a little more thoughtfulness into this adventure.

Reading “Crushed (2 of 3)”

There are issues of Ms. Marvel that I don’t really care too much for (see: the conclusions of both the Inventor arcs), and there are issues that I unabashedly love.  The middle part of “Crushed” falls into that latter category.

Cover of Ms. Marvel #14. (Cover by Jake Wyatt; image credit: Comic Vine)

In a lot of ways, this is a really quiet issue.  Most of the pages are taken up with Kamala’s budding romance with Kamran and Bruno’s conversation with Aamir.  There’s a smattering of action in the last four pages or so (and it’s pretty good action too), but by and large, this issue’s focus is on exploring character relationships.  It also doesn’t hurt that, being a middle part, it ends when things are at their worst.

Kamala’s romance with Kamran plays out in the issue’s first half in exactly the way Kamala imagines it’s supposed to go.  This perfect replication of her romantic fantasy signals to older readers that something is very off about the whole Kamran thing.  On the issue’s first page when Kamala says, “All this time, I thought […] I was the only nerdy Pakistani-American-slash-Inhuman in the entire universe,” the insane specificity of such a remark is a huge tip off that something has to be wrong with this relationship.  It’s not just the fact that Kamran has only been around for a single issue and Kamala’s investment in the relationship is going way too deep, way too soon (though those are good markers); at first glance, there are no flaws in the package that is Kamran for a girl like Kamala.  Their interests and cultural touchstones sync up remarkably well, and he just happens to also be an Inhuman, and that’s just off from what we know about most teenage relationships.  At that age, because of limited independence and social mobility, there is a ton of approximation that goes on in teenage friendships and romances.  Your social circle is limited to who you’re physically close to, and the likelihood of meeting someone who meshes that well with you, while not impossible, is highly improbable.

Everything looks so exciting and filled with promise here! (Artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Of course, this is all analysis from an adult reader’s perspective.  Kamala, as a teenage girl experiencing her first real crush within the context of the story, doesn’t have that perspective.  She just knows that she really likes Kamran (she even speculates that she might be in love with him, which, well, teenagers usually feel things a lot more intensely than adults given their stage of development and the abundance of novel experiences they’re having), and it’s the greatest thing ever that they have so much in common.

This panel is undeniably romantic (Miyazawa’s romance chops are shining through), but you know that things can only get worse from here. (Artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Naturally, reality has to set in eventually, and we it reasserted the morning after Kamala’s illicit date with Kamran.  He offers Kamala a ride to school in his fancy car, which Kamala gladly accepts despite the fact that she’s ditching both Aamir (all cleaned up and on his way to a job interview) and Bruno (he’s heard nothing about Kamala’s new beau because it’s been less than twenty-four hours since she and Kamran met).  Once the two lovebirds are alone, things take a sinister turn as Kamran drives Kamala not to school like he said but down to the riverfront where he wants her to meet someone “very important” to him.  The warning bells that go off at this point are pretty strong, and while Kamala does an admirable job of demanding that Kamran not disrespect her boundaries like this, it’s obvious from a mile off that he’s about to abduct her (I mean, technically he’s already abducted her, since he took her to a place she didn’t want to go).  So goes young love, right?

Joking aside, the sequence where Kamran incapacitates Kamala and takes her to New Attilan is incredibly creepy.  I can’t stress enough how harrowing the sequence where she wakes up is.  Miyazawa’s art really sells the disorientation that Kamala feels, and in the page before she begins busting her way out things look extremely scary for her.  She’s been kidnapped by someone she barely knows who has just spent the last twenty-four hours getting her into a position where she intimately trusts him, and now we see that that trust has been betrayed.  It’s scary stuff.

Real talk, the perspective in this panel and the look on Kamala’s face makes this moment extremely uncomfortable. Kamran just knocked her out and kidnapped her, and now she’s waking up dazed, alone, and in a strange room. (Artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

At the same time that all the stuff between Kamala and Kamran is happening (specifically while they’re speeding away in a car that’s way too nice for a teenager to be driving), we also get to see my favorite conversation between Bruno and Aamir (perhaps this is my favorite because these two characters rarely inhabit the same scene, but I still find it to be wonderful).  Aamir, much like the reader, is well aware of Bruno’s crush on Kamala, and he proceeds to have A Talk with Bruno about the nature of his and Kamala’s relationship.  Up to this point Aamir has largely been the doofy big brother who cares about his kid sister but doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of insights into the ways of her life.  At this bus stop on Coles & Montgomery, we learn that Aamir is way more perceptive than he lets on (there are many reasons to love Aamir, but we’ll get into more of those in a later story arc).  In very straightforward terms, Aamir lays out to Bruno the reality that he and Kamala can’t have a long term romance; while Bruno is beloved by the Khan family, he’s not Pakistani or Muslim, and it’s important to Kamala’s parents that when she begins her own family it still feels connected to its cultural roots.  Bruno is a second generation child of immigrants, so he relates well to the Khan family’s experience trying to integrate with American culture, but that’s not enough.  Aamir also points out, very reasonably, that Bruno and Kamala are still in high school; the likelihood of them remaining close enough to become romantically involved once Kamala is old enough to not be subject to her parents’ expectations is extremely low.  It’s a difficult conversation for Bruno, but Aamir handles the affair admirably, and you come away feeling like these characters are much more complex than they appear to be in relation to Kamala.

The next issue sees the resolution of this small arc, and Kamala’s encounter with the leader of the Inhumans’ own branch of extremists, Lineage.

“Please Tell Me You’re Not Putting This on the Internet”

Way back in the time before our national politics were obviously total crap, I wrote a little bit about the issue of The Sandman that features a story about Prez Rickard, the youngest President of the United States ever.  It’s a really good story, easily one of the standouts in the highly disjointed Worlds’ End arc; you should read it if you haven’t (or just read my write up on it instead).  Prez Rickard isn’t just a one-off character from that peculiar story; he had his own miniseries back in the ’70s.  I’ve not read that original series, but I expect that it’s full to the brim with some gonzo weirdness (the covers alone look bonkers), and Gaiman and Allred’s treatment in The Sandman #54 serves well enough to introduce folks to the character.

Now, as happens with just about everything these days, the First Teenage President is a concept that DC decided to reboot back in 2015.  The series didn’t last long; it was unceremoniously canceled after its first six issues because of poor sales right in the middle of a story arc.  What did get published was collected in a trade, Prez: Corndog-in-Chief, and it’s a really jarring read in 2017.

Easily the best part of this series is the frequent reimagining and repurposing of American iconography to be better representative of what our country is in the present day. (Cover by Ben Caldwell; image credit: Comic Vine)

In place of Prez Rickard, our hero and teenage president is Beth Ross (an incredibly unsubtle shout out to Betsy Ross), a girl who gets elected after she becomes internet famous for accidentally sticking her hair in fry grease at the height of a presidential election cycle.  Instead of the tumultuous 1970s, this Prez is set in the year 2036, some two decades in the future when the world is run by a handful of massive corporations and every aspect of American government is subsidized by corporate shills.  It’s an incredibly tongue-in-cheek projection of what we’ve all been imagining the country would become over time, but what’s weird reading this little artifact of the late Obama years is how just two years later it feels like the book’s futurism way overestimated how long it would take for us to arrive.  Some bits still feel futuristic, but that’s just because they reflect technology that is still in its infancy in the present day; the moment we create a meat replicator, you’re going to hear about it.

It’s easy to see what the creative team was trying to do with this book; it fits in with the line of ’60s and ’70s era intellectual properties that DC has been trying to reboot as contemporary social commentary books (probably the most successful example to date is their run of The Flintstones that examines the despair inherent in the 1950s-era middle class American Dream; I’ve heard this series’s treatment of Fred and Wilma is pretty devastating, and I really want to read it sometime).  The basic formula is that you take a property that was goofy when it was last popular, and you take one aspect and play it incredibly straight.  With Prez, you play the teenage politician straight, and then try to extrapolate from that endpoint all the circumstances that have to happen in the present day to lead to it.  You get overtones of earlier dystopias (the big reference points for me are Snow Crash with its vision of an American that descends into rule by corporate enclaves and the incredibly unsubtle Mike Judge movie Idiocracy) and a lot of play with the divide between younger and older generations.  The book doesn’t shy away from skewering the stupider parts of our current society; Beth gets elected both because in the future they allow voting on Twitter to increase participation and because the specialized rules of presidential elections lead to a free-for-all in Congress that essentially has nothing to do with the will of the people (does this sound painfully familiar yet?).  Beth’s efficacy in her brief tenure as president depends entirely on her ability to play the political outsider.  Parts of this feel more like fantasy and less like a thoughtful critique of an incredibly complex political system (which, duh, it’s a satire).

If the series has a major weakness, it’s just that it failed to anticipate how quickly we’d arrive in the stupid years.  It was easy a couple of years ago to be generally optimistic about the progress of America if you were a white liberal; the absurdity that Prez pushes hard would certainly feel like a logical extrapolation, but on a scale that was legitimately decades away.  These days, well, it doesn’t feel prescient so much as way too optimistic about the expected timeline.

I don’t know how long it will be before DC tries to play with its Prez concept again.  The general optimism of the franchise doesn’t seem like a good fit with the way things are today; at the same time, we might find in just a few years that people have had enough of greedy old white men running the country, and the fantasy of a young face emerging to save us from it all might have more cultural cachet again.

In the meantime, Prez is a strange little artifact of the period just before the national trauma that was the 2016 election.

Scenes From a Workday

The other day while I was sitting in my weekly department meeting, something weird happened.  My department chair brought up that the school year has been off to a weird start, and all the craziness that is social media and the news seemed like a major part of it.  Kids are, if anything, more connected to social media than us older folk, and it was just accepted as a given that they are likely feeling a lot of vicarious stress and trauma from constant exposure to world events.  Someone brought up the Las Vegas shooting from this past weekend.  It was a cause for concern locally because we’re approaching Homecoming week, and the planned theme for the dance at our school is “Las Vegas.”

Someone in the group let out an audible, “shit,” which was surprising because adults just don’t curse in professional settings up here in the Northwest.  We were asked for suggestions on how to help the students manage all this turbulence, and one of my coworkers offered a couple of really good, thoughtful ideas for how to be more affirming to our students.  We were informed that the student council had decided to keep the theme for Homecoming, but with the guidance of their faculty advisor, they’re going to try to integrate opportunities for students to process and discuss what’s happened.

I didn’t have anything to offer myself, partially because much of the time I just feel numb to current events and work is the place I go to exist in a space where the outside world doesn’t immediately impede (I totally realize this is ridiculous on its face), and partially because conversations about what happens in the news just weren’t part of the daily routine of my old work environments.

My last school had some remarkably liberal people on staff, but it also had libertarians and more typical conservatives (everyone, of course, was white), and the range of political opinions necessitated an uneasy armistice on the front of current events among staff.  You didn’t bring up newsworthy things except to say that shootings were unequivocally horrible (it’s an unspoken truth that every school worries about the possibility of shootings in their own halls; just last week our school had a threat of a shooting that was, thankfully, unfounded) and maybe to comment if the local football team had had a particularly good or bad showing on Saturday (it was always college ball, never professional).  This unseeing of the terrible stuff in the world (because no one could agree on precisely what was terrible) was the prime directive of professionalism: do not discuss anything happening outside the school.  We all still had to work together, after all.

In my current school, the discussion of current events is still not generally encouraged, but the school culture feels different.  In Georgia I felt relatively safe in assuming that I was politically farther left than most of my coworkers, and voicing my opinion would likely lead to severe discomfort for everyone.  Out in Oregon, although I don’t know anyone well enough to confirm political leanings yet, I get the sense that I’m much more of a moderate on the local spectrum (this is probably an illusion because practicing intersectional feminism requires a lot of radical thought about how to undermine systems of oppression, including white supremacy; in Oregon, all of my coworkers are still white, and they would probably still be discomfited by my pointing that out).  The conversation at the meeting about how to help students cope with an overwhelming, trauma inducing social media landscape (here they don’t scoff at the idea of secondary trauma) felt like something that was perfectly normal, if not common.

I’m still learning how to deal with this shift in perspective.

In a slightly related vein, I’ve been on a kick listening to music during my office hours at school.  Actually having these huge swaths of time to sit and just listen to music while I’m doing paperwork is a really different experience from working back in Georgia where my planning periods were typically spent in meetings or just taking a break from work after a long day of instruction in whatever break room was nearest to where I needed to be at the end of the day (I rarely spent much time in my own room at my last school).  Music just wasn’t a part of most of my downtime at work in the last year.  In the last couple days, I’ve been listening to Of Monsters And Men (before that it was Vampire Weekend, and before that it was a variety of stuff from Life is Strange and Kendrick Lamar).  Of Monsters And Men is a band that’s been sort of comfort music for the last five years or so.  Their stuff is really haunting, and they tend to walk that line between extreme melancholy and hopeful humanism.

Anyway, I was listening to an acoustic version of Of Monsters And Men’s song “King and Lionheart,” and it really hit me emotionally.  There have been so many feelings of personal high since we finished the move, and the overwhelming response to the news in the last couple months for me has been resigned numbness that I was honestly surprised to feel a pang of simple sadness.  It was this one brief moment of vulnerability in a way that I’ve not allowed for myself in a long time.

I’m unsure if there’s any parallel to draw between these two incidents from my workday.  I just wanted to illustrate them because they felt significant to me as markers of a real shift in my environment, and they seem like they’re worth embracing.