The Judgment of Freaks

This past week Jeffro Johnson sent me a copy of his new book Appendix N: The Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons. It is a compilation of a series of blog posts he wrote on each of the authors listed in the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon’s Master Guide. He didn’t ask for a review, or my thoughts on it. It was just a gift…I think because we once exchanged some pleasant emails. Tonight I cracked it open (as much as one can crack in a Nook) and so I can say a strange thing: That I am glad I did not read a blog which I would have liked; if you follow. His words are new to me. It’s not a mere rehash of an earlier pleasure. So far I enjoy it, but I will postpone my judgment until I’ve finished the book.

Judgment is what I want to write about tonight. It’s what I’ve written about in the previous two posts, and its lack is what stokes my internal fires right now.

In the third chapter of Appendix N, Johnson makes a statement of a truth which has so often put me at odds with fans. He wrote:

“Fans of science fiction and fantasy too often embrace just the surface elements of their respective genres. Whether it’s aliens in rubber suits or historical characters that have barely disguised twentieth-century world-views, there is a tendency to dumb things down to a level where it becomes glorified dress up.

[…]

It doesn’t have to be this way.”[1]

When Johnson says “it doesn’t have to be this way”, he means that the collective body of science fiction and fantasy works (books, movies, TV shows, comics, etc.) doesn’t have to be enamored of the superficial and dumbed-down. He’s right, it doesn’t.

But if we talk about the collective of fans, a great many of whom are strange and ill-formed, then I must say that it does have to be this way. What these strange and ill-formed SF&F fans want is a structure of the superficial. The less substantive the better, for under it they can do a couple things.

  1. Transform their crippling weirdness into a minor flaw which is subsumed under the temporarily-irrelevant category of real life.
  2. Practice a wide assortment of perversions disguised as make believe.

That’s why there are so many freaks in the comicbook store. That’s why there are so many freaks at the Star Trek conventions. That’s why there are so many freaks at Renaissance festivals, comic conventions, anime conventions…there are a lot of freak conventions.

Sellers of SF&F products also profit from the structure of superficials. Well-adjusted working class people (the great majority of us) can’t support something like the spectacle of San Diego ComicCon. We have to go to work, feed the kids, and volunteer at church. A person with such a civilizational-building schedule doesn’t have much time to create a cosplay outfit. If he does–that’s all his spare time.

There’s also the market angle: If companies put forth substantive works, then they have to wait for some freak to come along and hollow it out before they can expand their markets beyond those to whom a substantive work appeals. It’s the nature of substance to take up space, and therefore exclude things from that space. But if a company can sell products devoid of any meaning–any guts–then they can sell to anyone willing to try on the superficial. A merchant doesn’t care if some queer at Marvel emasculates Thor, but he does appreciate the opportunity to sell a line of tee shirts to a new untapped market of ill-mannered fat girls.


[1] Jeffro Johnson, Appendix N: The Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons, p. 32

My Impetus for The WAN Group: The Gideons and David Suchet

I’m a sucker for British murder mysteries. In fact I will put up with a lot of dreck to get to the end and watch a detective give a fifteen minute explanation of how he solved the crime before arresting the criminal; who almost always goes into custody without a struggle, cuffs, or even argument. Streaming video allows one to binge-watch and therefore follow a show’s descent into PC/SJW madness–the dreck I mentioned.

One show which somewhat bucked that trend was Poirot. While every other British program was scrubbing Christianity from its scripts, Poirot pushed forward its title character’s Roman Catholicism. It turns out that in 1986 David Suchet, in a a hotel room, read St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans; probably from a Bible put there by The Gideons.[1] He started to become a Christian, and in 2007 was finally confirmed into the Church of England. Suchet so assumed the role of Poirot in the minds of its audience that its producers felt him indispensable. He used that leverage to have the writers include scenes such as Poirot reciting the Rosary, and arguing with himself about his personal judgments versus the pronouncements of the Roman Catholic Church.

We need more of that. We need men with a plan to sow improbable seeds, such as The Gideons. We need men with the nerve to use whatever power they have, in whatever sphere they inhabit, to bring Christ into the scene.

A lesser, but also important, point: I put it to you that this is more difficult for those who are conservative than for those not. Those depictions of Poirot practicing his faith aren’t in the books. Portraying them isn’t the traditional thing to do, and those who hate Christ and faith and hope and love are quick to use the conservative’s unease at bucking tradition, and convince them to surrender the high ground.


[1] Most reports say it was a Gideon’s Bible. One article I read wrote that Suchet had to call a store to get a Bible; like ordering porn. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised if an actor falls prey to embellishment now and again. But even in that telling Suchet said he went looking for a Gideon’s Bible before making a call. 

Thanks, Mike Judge

Though I am not a Trump supporter, and though I don’t vote, I have swung nearly all my male coworkers into Trump’s camp. It (my intervention) happened because they are all in their early 20’s, all in college, and therefore subjected to a deluge of Bernie Sander’s propaganda. (This was back before the Dem National Convention.) Every day they would come in and talk about “that idiot Trump”, and then say that Sanders was the only logical person, the only sensible person, etc.

My problem was that they hated Trump for all the wrong reasons. So I had to talk them through the logic.

  • Trump is decidedly not an idiot. He made 4.5 billion  dollars from 1 million dollars, and there’s no evidence of Ponzi schemes, fraud, or other skullduggery.
  • Walls aren’t stupid and they do work. Ugly though it was, the Berlin Wall kept many, many people within. The walls of houses do keep others out. Fences do keep people out.
  • Sanders was the voice of a hippy-dippy generation that utterly failed and which even the hippy-dips had abandoned.

By the time we got to the national conventions the men (the women never involved themselves in the conversations after the first time I scoffed about Sanders) were reluctant Trump supporters. They say things like, “I hate to say it, but Trump is the only one that makes any sense. I feel dirty now.”

I’ve also seen some limited success on the entertainment front. We talk about movies and TV shows a lot and they always ask my opinion because they want to hear something fresh. They expect my criticism to be wholly new to them–and therefore exciting–even though they assume I won’t like it and especially that they won’t agree.

In my mind, I had thought I had utterly failed to get through. But one of them, after seeing Suicide Squad, said, “The whole time I was watching the movie I was thinking ‘Cane’s right: They’re just trying to get me to look at Harley Quinn while a bunch of stupid shit happens.’ I still enjoyed the movie though.”

I was glad, but a lot of what I had said about the ubiquity of anti-heroes (which I now realize I haven’t written about here) still sailed right over their heads…

…until today. Today I bought a Powerade and my boss (another 20s man) said, “Need some electrolytes? Plants crave electrolytes.”

“I’m not drinking anything from a toilet, that’s for sure!”

The Suicide Squad fan was there too and we all laughed. In that moment, it dawned on me that I could use Idiocracy to demonstrate why I resist (what I call) the Culture of Disrespect which permeates our popular media. “You know how in Idiocracy the guys in the future are lulled into a life of masturbation and Ow My Balls? They just sit around all day being entertained by elaborate pratfalls explosions and jerking off?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s Suicide Squad, and you are the men of the future. These movies have no heroes and the plots are janky, but you keep watching for the elaborate stunts and hot chicks because…because nothing.””

“You’re an asshole, Cane. Damn it, you’re right. You’re a total asshole.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Damn it.”

“You know what else?” I continued in sudden inspiration, “You know what else is like Idiocracy? Trump.” It had suddenly appeared to me that Donald Trump would be a President Camacho. “He’s a billionaire reality TV star whose popularity is predicated on his bank account and upon spectacle.”

“Dude… Oh man, that sucks. You’re right!”

“He’s still better than Hillary. Even Camacho had the brains to put a smart guy in charge of the crops. Hillary is the Brondo corporation. She’s the Brondosaurus..”

“No joke.”

Tonight, when I got home, and after I listened to the end of a Google Hangout, I wondered if anyone else had made that connection and I googled Idiocracy Trump. Someone had: Mike Judge.

“I didn’t want Idiocracy to get popular by the world getting stupider faster,” Judge, who now runs the show Silicon Valley, said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “I guess I was 450 years off! But yeah, it’s a tad bit scary!”

Judge had specific examples about how exact plot points from Idiocracy are now real. This past March, the CEO of Carl’s Jr. said he wants to test out completely automated restaurants. And in Idiocracy, there’s a Carl’s Jr. kiosk that malfunctions.

At the end of this year, a coffee shop called Fellatio Café will open in Geneva, Switzerland that offers oral sex alongside your caffeine boost. In Idiocracy, that place is simply Starbucks.

And of course, there’s Donald Trump, our current Republican nominee for president, who has appeared in pro-wrestling matches  and puts an emphasis on entertainment rather than policy. Sounds a lot like President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho. (Judge tried to make Camacho-themed videos pegged to this year’s election, but Fox turned him down.) [emphasis added]

Trump was in a wrestling match. Dang.

To tie all this together I finished our conversation with this: “Camacho isn’t the hero we need, but he’s the hero we deserve.”