Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cultural Reflections

I (somewhat)recently turned 30 and the last of my old high school buddies I still am in touch with is weeks away from this truly insignificant(this was written a few months ago, Parisi is already 30, the old fuck), but culturally imposed time for self-reflection.  For whatever reason I feel the societal pressure to do the same, and after listening to Kevin Smith’s recent Audiobook “Tough Shit” I was inspired to look back at the moments and artifacts that lead to the creation of my first novel finding publication, and the two subsequent sequels that are not very marketable after the poor sales of the first in the series. 

We’ll start with Mr. Smith’s influence, on me.  The first Kevin Smith film I saw was Chasing Amy, a true favorite of mine to this day.  I saw it in a small grimy theatre with my culturally superior cousin (Hi Troy) and was completely unprepared for it.  As a lifelong comic geek, I was immersed in the world of Holden and Banky.  Despite missing most of the references to the view askew universe (why is everyone laughing at Silent Bob’s monologue, its poignant.)  I was drawn into Smith’s world.  I immediately rented Smith’s other available films Clerks and Mallrats.  While I liked Clerks, I honestly didn’t relate too much to it.  I was only 14 at the time.  Mallrats however struck a chord with me and I literally watched it over and over again.  After watching the movie the first time I rewound the rented VHS and watched it again.  It spoke to me in a way I was too young and inexperienced to put into words. 

Later in life (nearly 15 years) I can now understand why those early Smith films meant so much to me.  At the time they were just funny, partly because of how crude they were and partly due to the fact they didn’t feel stupid.  Whole running gags were based around single words.
T.S. Quint: [reading the break-up letter that Renee gave Brodie] Woah, she calls you "callow" in here.
Brodie: You say that like it's bad.
T.S. Quint: It means frightened and weak-willed.
Brodie: Really? Shit. That was the only part of the letter I thought was complimentary.

 However crude and incoherent it was, Mallrats was a personal film for Smith, (he says so in his book) it was about an idea or feeling wrapped in the conventions of a simple dick and fart comedy.  In my novel (or story as I think of it) I consciously do the same thing, though using a completely different genre. 
Stories that entertain, while containing enough ideas and genuine feeling to hold up to repeat experiences are the best.  With this is mind I want to talk about how great it was when I started to get my hands on Dick. (See that is a Smith influenced joke.)

Phillip K. Dick was (he is dead) a science fiction writer, but at the same time he wasn't.  While he had the trappings of and conventions of science fiction in his books, they were always about more.  Some of his novels (confessions of a crap artist) seemed to jam in a few sci fi ideas merely to stay in the genre.  In 8th grade I watched Blade Runner (Theatrical Version) and went out and bought a copy of Where Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.  

The movie was good, but at this point in my life the book blew me away.  It was awash in so many deep ideas, but never lingered investigating any of them fully.   To me Where Androids Dream of Electric Sheep will always be an open ended investigation into what is life, versus what is existence, and how we measure the value of these concepts.  I still have my old battered to hell paperback of this personal classic, and it is one of my most cherished books. 

While other books by Dick were incredibly influential to my mental development I want to address one in particular because of the national events that transpired shortly after I completed a report on it for my 10 grade English class.  Confessions of a Crap Artist is about an intelligent disillusioned kid who in the story’s climax goes on a shooting spree.  It was jarring in my mind to have a sympathetic protagonist who ultimately goes on an unrelenting killing spree, it was even more jarring as it was mere months before the events at Columbine High School.  Like much of Dick’s work it had an incredible influence on me, one that would inform my own series of stories. 

In my work to this point, I do not shirk from violence when the narrative demands it, however I have made very conscious decisions to portray not only the actions themselves as unpleasant and gut churningly brutal, but also what comes next.  Dead villains in my stories have families that mourn them.  The survivors of the extreme violence always bare the weight of these situations.  Nearly all my characters have some level of PTSD.  The final element of the unpleasant violence in my stories that I am most conscious of is the manner that gunfire is dealt with.  When I was younger I came across a quote on guns that has stuck with me for years, by Frank Miller from The Dark Knight Returns.  “ A gun is a coward’s weapon.  A liar’s weapon.  We kill too often because we’ve made it easy…too easy…sparing ourselves the mess and the work.”

I don’t remember how young I was when I stumbled upon these words, but they stuck with me for most of my life.  All the gun fights i write hearken back to this idea.  In near clinical detail I let my readers know where the bullets are striking characters and what the bullet is doing to their anatomy.  Guns aren’t magic wands, it’s not a loud noise and the bad guy magically falls.  I’d like to do my part in portraying guns not in a romantic light, but as a great tool for drilling holes into things and nothing more. 

Speaking of Batman when I was in second grade my Mom borrowed Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman from a neighbor for me and I was utterly entranced.  From the haunting score that I still celebrate to this day, to the slick dark gothic visuals and in the center of it all a demonic looking figure battling a clown. 

Note; this is an unfinished reflection that would move from Burton to the Simpsons to Noir and Pulp books and lastly to my exploration of horror through the website Arrow in the Head.  Alas I have other shit to do so I am simply posting this as is…

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