DNA Podcast 033 – Writing Formulas

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Lester Dent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this episode, Rob and Don sit down to discuss story structure. They explore the origins of the 3-act structure, discuss Chris Fox’s Write to Market strategy, and break down the Lester Dent Master Pulp Writing Formula and Michael Moorcock’s How to Write a Book in Three Days method. All this, and why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is really a ninja, are waiting for you in this episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs!

We’re stuck in a long distance relationship with copyright.

 

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Here’s a thought:

Copyright Laws are putting us in a long-distance relationship situation with media, and hindering creativity.

In a long-distance relationship, what happens is the couple communicate in a superficial way most of the time, and only see each other occasionally as their life/work situations allow. This creates an odd situation where the relationship is stuck in a kind of dating limbo- where the couple don’t see each other enough for the relationship to progress to the get-together stage or the breakup stage. As a result, the relationship lingers on and on, because they never get sick of each other, but aren’t satisfied with the relationship either. It creates a situation where they are constantly hoping that the next meeting will be awesome, remembering the meetups that were awesome, and forgetting all the meetups that sucked. Preventing them from moving on and finding new and possibly better relationships.

Ever-extending copyright laws are doing the same thing to our relationship with media. Instead of letting us fall in and out of love with a media property (like Star Wars), the long-term copyright laws keep us exposed to only a drip-feed of that media property and keep us from getting sick of it. We remember the good times, but not the bad, and keep coming back to it. As a result, a few mega-properties (Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Marvel/DC Superheroes, etc) are able to suck up all the media attention (and money) and hindering the growth of new media sources because they never quite go away.

If we had shorter copyrights, then after a certain point properties would enter the public domain and everyone could make their versions of those media properties, which would have two effects- 1) it would “burn them out” of the collective consciousness through over-saturation and overexposure (everyone would get sick of them and move on), and 2) it would create opportunities for new material to move in and grow, resulting in newer media that suits the current generation and offers new ways of thinking instead of the old stuff being recycled endlessly. (Or, to continue our relationship metaphor- it would force people to break up and find new partners.)

My friend Don often comments that “nothing goes away anymore”, and I think this is a piece of that. Nothing is going away because corporations are extending out franchises and copyright keeps the public from running wild with them and burning them out. You might say that’s just fine, since it keeps the companies in business, but it also prevents them from innovating, since all their energies are focused on the old and not the new. Just like it keeps the public’s attention on the old instead of the new, preventing the innovation which happens every day from rising up into the public’s awareness and changing things for the better (or worse).

Just an idea, anyway.

Rob

 

DNA Podcast 028 – The Nature of Nerdliness

nutty-prof

In this episode, Rob and Don sit down with guest Jack Ward to discuss what it means to be a nerd. The trio discuss exactly what nerds are, where they came from, and whether nerds as a concept is even still relevant in modern culture.  All this, and why The Nutty Professor was the great nerd hero of the 20th century are waiting for you in this episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs.

DNA Episode 027 – Horror Hosts with Michael Monahan

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In this episode, Rob and Don sit down with Michael Monahan, author and co-producer of the documentary American Scary, to talk about Horror Hosts. We delve into the origins of the Horror Host phenomena from its early days with Vampira to the megahit Ghoulardi and the modern incarnations which still stalk the airwaves. All this, and why Bob Wilkins is a name every scifi fan should know, is coming to you in this, the 27th episode of the Department Affairs!

Don’t know what Horror Hosts are? Watch the short video below for a quick primer of a few of the more famous ones in action.

 

Movie Review: Detroit 9000

Detroit 9000 should have been called “70’s Detroit Action Flick- The Movie” or perhaps “Detroit Cops of the 70’s- The Movie”, either way it’s an odd and unique little time capsule of a film. At it’s core, it’s a simple cop drama about police detectives trying to find the culprits behind a major robbery and a black cop and a white cop trying to get along in a service where even the police force seems divided along racial lines. However, there is nothing simple about this film.

The only way I can describe this movie is this- imagine if a millionaire (it was 1973) with almost no film experience decided to hire a top-knotch production team to help him film his dream movie about the cops of his home town- Detroit. He wrote the film himself, and filled it with local actors of highly variable quality, and then had this professional crew help them make it into a movie. That may not be what happened, but my god, it sure feels like it’s what happened when you watch this film.

The director, the editor, the sound people, the costumers, and pretty much everyone else knew how to take what was likely a medium-ish budget and make something really solid out of it. The problem is, the film they were making was horribly written and had some of the worst and most awkward dialog you’ve ever heard. The core structure of the film is okay, which keeps it watchable, but the dialog needs to be heard to be believed. You literally never know what awkward racist line going to come out of people’s mouths next, and most of the minor parts seem to be played by people who have never acted in their lives, so that makes it even worse!

The trailer above plays it as a Blaxploitation flick, but that isn’t quite accurate. It’s not so much an exploitation flick about black culture as a police/crime film that happens to have mostly a black cast. Which is good, actually, because that’s one of the things that keeps it interesting- watching the interplay between the black and white characters and seeing how they interrelate to each other as people and professionals. If anything, the movie is mostly colorblind (it treats all races, genders, classes and even sexualities as just normal people, despite the racist dialog), which I think was what the guy who wrote it had in mind- a movie about the people of Detroit just trying to get along despite the things that divided them.

So would I say I liked the film? I’m not sure I’d go that far. As I said at the beginning, it’s an odd and unique film. It’s an action movie about the people (and especially the police) of Detroit, made by the people of Detroit for the people of the city of Detroit of that time. As someone who lived in Windsor for a few years, and has a bit of an interest in Detroit as a city and its history and culture, I found it a fascinating little time capsule of a period after the white people had mostly gone, but before the middle-class black community had completely disintegrated. However, as a film, it’s so wildly uneven I don’t know whether I would actually tell anyone else to watch it unless you really just enjoy this kind of thing and are willing to appreciate it in its own unique context.

 

The Technique of Mystery

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In my travels across the net, I recently came across a book from 1914 by Carolyn Wells called The Technique of Mystery. This book is her thoughts on the theory and practice of writing mysteries, and while Ms. Wells may not have been a particularly successful mystery writer, she did put a lot of thought into the subject that even a modern writer might want to consider.

Why Feminists Need to Stop Using “Misogyny”

Words have power. Power given to them by their social and cultural context.

Different words have different strengths and will produce different reactions from people; for example, if I call someone a “dummy” they generally won’t get too upset, but if I call them a “f*cking idiot” there’s going to be a strong reaction from most people. The reason these two words produce different results is because of how often they’re used and when they’re used. The receiver understands the weight these words carry, and reacts according to that weight.

But, what if I call my friend a “f*cking idiot” all the time? Eventually, that term will lose its strong meaning and come to have a weaker meaning similar to “dummy”. This is just human nature- we get used to hearing something and slowly it becomes part of the normal background noise of life. It loses power, and even its meaning.

This is bad because it means when I need to use the stronger term to emphasize that something important is happening or to really make myself understood it isn’t there anymore. I’ve used it. Just like The Boy Who Cried Wolf- when he sounded the alarm too many times, people stopped coming or caring, and when he really needed it, it was too late.

And this is what’s happened to the word “misogyny”.

Misogyny, which literally means “hatred of women”, used to be a very powerful word in the feminist arsenal. And rightly so- it was used to describe cases of extreme sexism where the hatred of women was so strong it was violent or abusive. To call someone a misogynist was equal to calling them a Nazi, and saying they were the lowest type of human being, bordering on evil. If a woman cried “misogyny!” and pointed at something, other women listened, and it was like a battle cry for the feminist cause.

It was a rare word, a powerful word, and one which drew attention to great injustice.

Sadly, that is no longer the case.

Today on my social media pages, it’s almost a strange day when I don’t see the word “misogyny” somewhere in my feed. My more feminist friends are constantly linking to articles with that word liberally used within them, and the internet is filled with articles using it. (1.3 million hits on Google, and counting!) As a result, the word is very rapidly going from “hatred of women” to mean “stuff some women don’t like” in the popular internet consciousness.

We have a whole generation of young women growing up thinking the words Sexism (favouritism or preference towards one sex) and Misogyny are the same words, when they’re not at all. The majority of the discrimination women face is Sexist, not Misogynist, because it’s not coming from a place of hatred so much as a place of unfair attitudes towards gender roles in society. A toy maker or TV show producer who chooses only to target a male audience is being sexist, they’re giving preference to one sex, they’re not being misogynist. (Unless you can show they have made clear statements that they in some way actively hate or dislike women or girls.) And, calling them Misogynist does more harm than good because it dilutes the meaning of the word even further.

But, who cares, right? They’re being unfair, and it doesn’t matter what word we use to target them!

The problem is, it does matter.

The more you use it, the more it fades into the background, and the easier it becomes for people to just ignore. It takes on a cultural meaning of “noisy feminist stuff” and no longer gains the attention it deserves when it’s used in a proper context. And this is a shame, because it’s a strong word and a good word to have when fighting for social justice, but only if it’s properly used.

After all, when it loses all meaning, who will come when the cry is made?

Wolf!

Local History Matters

Tonight, I attended a lecture at my local community center by a local historian on the largely ignored Eastern half of the city of London, Ontario. My city, as I learned tonight, was originally two- London Proper (what I know as Downtown London) and East London (where the factories and working class people lived). These two halves, divided by Adelaide Street, would amalgamate at the dawn of the 20th century into a single city, but those lines still exist over a hundred years later in class and social divides.

In my city, we have the term East of Adelaide (EOA), which basically means “the bad side of town”, although it’s not technically completely accurate anymore. I grew up EOA, and although I never really felt the divide much at the time, now looking back I can see it in my own youthful experiences and how that shaped my attitudes towards class in some ways. I was one of the lucky ones, since my father was a doctor, as I still had a very middle class existence, but many I knew weren’t so lucky.

Regardless, what I found precious about tonight was the fact that for one of the first times in my life I actually learned about the history of the place where I grew up. It wasn’t that I avoided it, or that I didn’t want to know- it was that there simply wasn’t anyone available to teach it to me. My parents grew up in other cities, and moved here shortly after I was born, so they couldn’t teach me what they didn’t know. (A common situation in many highly mobile Canadian families.) So, how was I supposed to learn it?

The obvious answer should be school, but the sad truth is that school doesn’t teach local history either. They teach world history, national history and provincial history, but almost nothing about the history of the place where the school sits.

And that, is wrong.

Oh, I know why it happens. Here in Canada we’re a young country, and we have this odd Canadian provincial mentality that nothing Canadian really matters much in the greater scheme of things. We’re only three hundred years old, or so, and we haven’t had many wars, or political upheavals, and nothing really all that exciting happened, and Canadians history is boring, so why should we really bother teaching it? Especially local history, right? What good is that?

Except that’s all wrong- all of it. That’s the stupid mentality we’ve developed because of the way we’re taught history, and that creeping sense of inferiority we have to the UK and the United States who look so much cooler and bigger and cooler from where we sit. The truth is that Canadian history is filled with pirates, adventurers, explorers, entrepreneurs, political leaders, sports heroes, uprisings, cultural battles, wars, sex, violence, and everything else that makes history exciting.

We just don’t teach that stuff, because it’s somehow not proper. It’s like the stuff we’re embarrassed about, and we don’t want people having the wrong idea that we might be descended from THOSE people.

And that leaks down to the attitude about local history as well, which has this air of being nothing special or important. I mean, unless you live in Montreal or Quebec, that’s history, but the rest of Canada? Who cares, right?

Well, we should care.

It’s a little bit like not knowing your parents or your family history. The place we grow up shapes us and defines us in a thousand little ways, and unless we know and understand that place and where it came from, we will never truly understand ourselves. We need that knowledge as we go out into the world, because it lets us know who we are, and gives us a center to find our way.

Local history should be taught in schools, and it should be taught in a way which is no less important or detailed than the other “greater” types of history. If anything, it’s more important, exactly because it’s part of the lives of the students learning it.

Of course, I can already hear people sayings- “but local kids won’t want to learn that!”

To this, I reply with what the historian told me tonight. She told me about casually mentioning her area of study to a bunch of teenage boys she knew, and her being shocked when they actually wanted to sit there and learn everything she could tell them about where they grew up. They wanted to know where they came from, and were more than willing to pay attention if there was someone to teach it to them and answer their questions.

And why shouldn’t they? It was history that actually mattered to THEM.

It might not be important to anyone else, but it was their lives, their roots she was talking about, the place they lived in every day, and the questions that they’d always had but never thought to ask about their real world.

We talk all the time about disillusioned young people, voter turnout being down and people not being engaged in civic politics, but we need to ask the question- why should they be? If we don’t teach them to know and love the place where they grew up, how can they be anything but unattached and uncaring? Why should they care when they have no sense of connection to their homes, neighbourhoods and towns? A place is its people, but it’s also its history.

Even if the school boards just gave one semester of one year to local history, it could make a huge difference in the lives of many kids. Yes, not everyone will want to learn it or appreciate it, but don’t they deserve the chance to choose?

Male and female brains wired differently, scans reveal | Science | The Guardian

So much for the feminist ideal that the only gender differences are learned.

Scientists have drawn on nearly 1,000 brain scans to confirm what many had surely concluded long ago: that stark differences exist in the wiring of male and female brains.

Maps of neural circuitry showed that on average women’s brains were highly connected across the left and right hemispheres, in contrast to men’s brains, where the connections were typically stronger between the front and back regions.

via Male and female brains wired differently, scans reveal | Science | The Guardian.

Hosting Horror

To me, as a kid, Saturday afternoon was a sacred time. I spent each Saturday from 1pm until 6pm watching Superhost Marty Sullivan show old horror and sci-fi movies from Cleveland, OH. In fact, I dare say it was a more religious experience to me than my Sunday mornings at church!

http://www.clevelandseniors.com/photos/marty-sullivan/superhost.jpg

As such, I have a great fondness for Horror Hosts and the Creature Feature programs they hosted. According to what I read, they were the result of packages of old B-Grade Horror Movies being sold to small and independent stations back in the day to pretty much act as filler content during lulls in programming. The problem was that these movies were all of odd lengths, and generally needed to be fit evenly with commercials into 2-3 hour blocks. So, they created Horror Hosts like Vampira (the first horror host was actually a Host-ess!) to fill in the gaps or occasionally narrate around edits for time when things needed to be shortened.

This evolution was chronicled in the documentary American Scary, which you can watch in full here:


American Scary by filmow

Each Horror Host had their own schtick and style, and there were a lot of them! Superhost was the one I actually watched on a regular basis because of his fondness for Japanese Giant Monster Movies, but I did occasionally watch Sir Graves Ghastly from Detroit if there was something he was showing I thought it was worth staying up for.


Most Hosts did extra comedy skits, and many of them became very famous local celebrities, often appearing at special events and doing charity work.

Oddly enough, Cleveland (which is right across Lake Erie from my own city of London, ON) was a hotbed for Horror Hosts, and the producer of one of the most famous- Ghoulardi. Ghoulardi was way before my time (1963-1966) but was so influential and popular that there’s even a convention in his honor held every year which attracts many fans of the genre. There was also an Emmy award-winning documentary made about him called Turn Blue, which you can also watch on Youtube…


Sadly, Horror Hosts seem to have been a uniquely American phenomenon (here’s a list of the Top 12), with the only non-American host I’ve been able to find being one in Australia. I tried to find examples of Canadian ones, but we don’t seem to have had any true ones. (I have heard there might have been one in Montreal, though.) They’re a cultural artifact which has mostly passed into history, as there are only a tiny handful of them left, mostly on local public access TV channels in the US. I’ve also heard there are a few modern Horror Hosts doing their thing on Youtube, but haven’t found any yet.

I’m not sure why they interest me so, I guess it’s just nostalgia as I get older. They’re an artifact of my childhood that I wasn’t aware was different while I was growing up, but are gone now that I’m old enough to appreciate them. Yeah, there’s Rifttracks and MST3K, but it’s not the same. I guess you just had to be there! 🙂

Stay Sick!

A few sites with more information:

http://www.horrorhostgraveyard.com/

http://myweb.wvnet.edu/e-gor/tvhorrorhosts//

http://www.horrorhostmagazine.com/