By now you should know this was coming. Every year I list off the many things I’m thankful for. It is, after all, what Thanksgiving is about, right? It’s not just food, family, and football. Admittedly, this holiday season is a bit more melancholy for me what with the death of my Grandma Ruth, but it is my determination to practice the holiday.
So, with that, here’s my list for 2016.
God the Father
The Holy Spirit
My wonderful family
That I’ll soon be an uncle again
That my Grandma was reunited with Grandpa in heaven and is no longer suffering (though I still miss them)
Hosted by Nathan Marchand, Sergio Garza, and Bill Miller
In this episode, we discuss the often obnoxious DLC practices that plague modern gaming, and in several fighting games in particular. While Nathan tries to defend some, Bill and Sergio have choice words for those games.
What are your thoughts on how some developers are handling their DLC?
Ankle Pickers: where if you don’t like what we say, start blocking low!
I don’t usually get political in this blog or on any of my social media sites. It’s not because I’m apolitical—I’m a staunch conservative, in case you didn’t know—but because I have no desire to join the firestorm-beset wasteland that is “internet discourse.” I’ve been a troll magnet in the past, and let me tell you, while I can endure the abuse (and even laugh at it), it is tiring.
Regardless, the strangest election cycle, well, ever, finally came to an end Tuesday night. Or rather, Wednesday morning at 2AM. I voted, but it was with reservations. I wasn’t excited about either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. I was a Ted Cruz supporter during the primaries. Heck, I even attended one of his rallies when he came to Fort Wayne, Indiana (it was the first political rally I ever attended). If he hadn’t won, there were several other candidates I would’ve gladly voted for. I was disappointed to see Trump come out on top, and thanks to my state, no less. I honestly thought his appeal was largely a cult of personality (cue mandatory reference to the ‘80s song) fueled by angry people fed up with the government. Although, admittedly, it did give me some reassurance to see him nominate my state’s governor, Mike Pence, as his running mate.
There was a period in my life where people seemed to assume I was a Republican in my political beliefs, and they put me into the “box” they’d constructed for what that meant, most of it based on inaccurate stereotypes. Even when I tried to explain that I considered myself a conservative, not a Republican, that didn’t always seem to stick. For me, one’s political beliefs should be based on ideas and philosophies, not party affiliations. Just because I, or anyone else, tend to identify with one more than the other because they usually espouse similar ideas doesn’t mean my first loyalty is to that party.
I’m not the only nerd who made the connection. 😛
That’s why, especially in the last few months, I’ve tried to make it clear that I was interested in the truth above anything else. I’d defend Trump if I felt someone was regurgitating misnomers that were being spread about him, but again, that didn’t mean my loyalty is to him. (I’d have done the same for Hillary, but, well, the truth is either hard to find about her or it’s unpleasant). I had no pretensions about who these candidates were. I was never all-in with Trump. He’s not the pseudo-messiah some of his supporters seem to think he is, nor is he the reprobate his haters think he is. I, like the majority of Americans, I think, was somewhere in the middle.
My grandmother, Ruth Sitton, with her dog, Pebbles.
On Monday, October 31, 2016, my grandmother, Ruth Sitton, died of natural causes at the age of 94. She was my last living grandparent.
A large portion of my childhood was spent at Grandma’s house in Arcola, Indiana, growing up. She and Grandpa Max were my first babysitters. Mom and Dad took me and my siblings there almost every Sunday after church. Whenever a new baby arrived in our family, we went to their house. If any of us wanted a little getaway, we went to their house. Every Halloween we went to Arcola for trick-or-treating. When Christmas Day rolled around, the family always gathered at their house for gifts, food, and fun. When I started college, Grandma, now a widow, gracious let me live in her house and commute to school for the first three semesters I was there.
Ruth, like a typical grandmother, always spoiled her grandkids, especially us, it seemed. We were never allowed to be hungry at her house. She always made sure we ate our meals and was generous with snacks throughout the day (she had an endless supply of Skittles). It was at her house I discovered the joys of video games, cable TV, and the internet, much of which I didn’t have at home. I have fond memories of her driving me into video stores in Fort Wayne, which I would explore looking for new video games and movies to experience.
But it wasn’t just media that made visiting Grandma (and Grandpa) great. She lived by a hill, which was great for sledding. She and Grandpa took me on a special trip to the Oshkosh air show. We went on bike rides throughout Arcola (although that was more of a Grandpa Max thing). She usually had some eccentric animal—whether it was her cats Fluff or Theodore or her Yorkshire Terrier, Pebbles—to keep us entertained.
Grandma Ruth has always been there. Even when she moved to the nursing homes, I had the comfort of knowing she was around. Now, for the first time in my life, I have no grandparents. I’d hoped that, whether in person or not, she’d be around to see me get married. I guess that was always a fool’s hope.
Thank you, Grandma Ruth, for all your generosity, kindness, and hospitality! I miss you so very much, but I know you’re happy in the house you dreamt Grandpa Max built for the two of you in heaven.
For this new Digression, I decided to recite the classic poem “The Raven” by Edger Allan Poe, the grandmaster of horror literature. So, curl up to the fireplace, light some candles, and enjoy this creepy classic.
Today’s blog is a simple but important one. As you can see, I’ll be a busy little chap, what with all the stuff I have to prepare for, but I wanted to make sure you knew where and when you could come see me for the rest of the year.
I have three book signings between now and the end of the year (well, more like between now and the end of November, but let’s not get technical). The biggest one is this weekend, but the others are certainly noteworthy as well. They are…
Fantasticon Fort Wayne
I’ve written about this show before, so I won’t go into copious detail. However, what makes this one special is I’ll be joined by my partners in crime, Nick Hayden, Eric Anderson, and Jarod Marchand. With it being Halloween weekend, I may as well wear my Captain America costume and say, “Avengers assemble!” Nick will be selling his own books, including The Unremarkable Squire and a new short story collection. Eric will be promoting his ministry, Nerd Chapel, and selling our devotional, 42: DiscoveringFaith Through Fandom. My brother Jarod will be selling his artwork, which includes some illustrations he’s made for my stories. This will be Nick and Jarod’s first times as vendors. We’re all getting tables next to each other, so you can easily get autographs from us. It’s being held at the Grand Wayne Center in downtown this Saturday and Sunday from 10am-6-pm and 10am-5pm, respectively. Guests will include film directors Scott Russo and Scott Spiegel as well as a replica of the 1966 Batmobile.
Allen County Public Library Author Fair 2016
Nick and I will once again be returning to the annual author fair held at the main branch of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, November 12 from 1pm-4pm. We’ll be two of the dozens of authors in attendance. There will also be several seminars offered by some of the authors at the fair (sadly, neither of us are participating, but I may attend one). You can learn more about the event and see the full list of authors here.
Author Fair 2016 at Whitley County Historical Museum
I haven’t mentioned this one because I wasn’t sure I’d attend, and then after I signed up, I was told it was cancelled. But yesterday I got a phone call saying it was “un-cancelled.” There’s nothing on the museum’s website about it yet, but it’s happening November 19 from 11am-2pm with a writing seminar taking place afterward. Me, Nick, and my friend Michelle St. Germain-Weidenberger attended last year, so we were invited back. However, I think I may be the only one of the three of us who’s returning. Once I have more details, I’ll pass them along.
(Insert mandatory apology for not blogging in six weeks).
Most people like Star Wars, right? Even if they’re not hardcore nerds/fans, they’ve still probably seen the movies and enjoyed them. They’re considered classics (especially the original trilogy).
Yet, as I saw in a recent video from Red Letter Media, there is an outspoken contingent of people—fans included—who not hate these films, and they seem to be growing. This isn’t just prequel hate, either. Criticisms are being lobbed at every Star Wars film, including the originals.
I’m not saying they’re “perfect” movies by any stretch, nor do I think they’re immune to criticism. Yet much of this disdain seems to have sprang up recently, although I think it goes back nearly 20 years to the release of The Phantom Menace.
This theory isn’t original to me (I can thank Doug Walker for it). Regardless, I think the original trilogy was loved by a generation that saw it in their childhoods, and since it captured their imaginations, they elevated it in their minds, believing the films to be perfection or the closest thing to it. They glossed over whatever imperfections it had (hence why many fans objected to the “special editions” of the films). When Episode I was set to open, the hype machine went crazy. I remember that time. People were buying tickets to bad movies just to see the trailer (this was before trailers were on the internet). Phantom Menace had a great trailer, so I don’t blame anyone for buying the hype. But when they saw the movie…to say they were deflated would be an understatement. The film forced them to reevaluate the original films because, honestly, it had some of the same flaws as the original. It made them question if George Lucas was the creative genius they thought he was. Since many of these fans had built their lives around this franchise, it was as though their “religion,” if you will, had been debunked.
For a time, though, this contempt was channeled at only the prequels (unfairly, I would say). It was as though Episodes I-III were fans’ personal whipping boys. Then the hate spread to the “special editions” of the original films, what with controversial changes like Greedo shooting first. When The Force Awakens opened, it was criticized by some as too derivative of the first film (even by Lucas himself). Now things have come full circle and there are those looking at the original films and criticizing their flaws. George Lucas has gone from being incapable of wrong to doing nothing right, even with his original masterpieces.
To which I say…
Calm the heck down!
Admittedly, Mr. Lucas—like most sci-fi franchise creators, it seems—is a better visionary and worldbuilder than writer. He had much help when he made the original trilogy, but the prequels were unfiltered Lucas. That’s the only explanation I can offer for that.
Regardless, as I’ve said, I don’t think these movies deserve the ire they’re getting (even the prequels). No one’s childhoods were ruined. If you somehow think that, I feel sorry for you. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and the right to discuss the merits of the Star Wars films, but there’s no need to turn something fun into a bunch of whining. Just because it’s something high-profile and iconic like Star Wars doesn’t mean you have to lose your minds over it. Yes, I’ve been known to get irate when something happens in a story I don’t like, but when the dust settles, I go on with my life. In the end, these are just stories, some well told, some not so much. Relish the good ones and criticize the bad ones (heck, be satirical about it, if you want), but don’t turn to the Dark Side to do the latter. It’s giving the geek community a bad image. We need some good PR.
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to Rogue One and discussing theories with friends about Rey’s parentage.
Today, September 8, 2016, marks the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek franchise. It’s no secret that I’m a Trekker. Heck, almost every version of my author bio mentions that my love of speculative fiction—and by extension, writing—came from watching late-night reruns of the original Star Trek series with my Dad. It didn’t stop there, though. I ate up everything Trek. I watched all the spin-offs. I was obsessed with the movies. I had/have toys, magazines, and books. Star Trek defined science fiction for me for a long time. It was my first and possibly most important fandom.
What makes this franchise appealing to me are its cerebral stories, amazing characters, and positive outlook. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, intended the show to not simply be escapist entertainment but stories that tackled current issues head-on and spurred viewers to think deeply about them. This, in my opinion, is not only a mark of good science fiction but also a mark of good storytelling and art.
So, in honor of this golden anniversary, I’m presenting my top ten favorite episodes of all the Trek series (I’m excluding Star Trek: The Animated Seriessince all but one episode isn’t considered canonical). It wasn’t easy narrowing this down or ranking the episodes. Some series have too many good ones to pick from.
Regardless, it’s time “to boldly go where no man has gone before”!
In a Mirror, Darkly (Star Trek: Enterprise)
Enterprise, despite a solid cast and premise—a prequel series showing the early days of Starfleet and the formation of the United Federation of Planets—took several seasons to figure itself out. At a time when superior shows like Firefly were getting cancelled after only 14 episodes, it’s astonishing this show was given that long to find its space legs (it was probably because UPN was desperate). Sadly, it was cancelled prematurely.
Regardless, while Enterprise never quite reached the heights of Deep Space Nine or The Next Generation, it did have some good episodes. The best was this two-parter from near the end of its fourth and final season. It makes callbacks to several Original Series episodes, most notably “Mirror, Mirror” and “The Tholian Web,” and ties up some loose ends from them. It takes place in the Mirror Universe, where all the good guys are evil (hence “bearded Spock” in the original episode), so we get to see the entire cast ham it up as their evil counterparts. We see the formation of the Terran Empire. We see what became of the U.S.S. Defiant. We even see a Gorn! The proverbial cherry on top, though, was the new title sequence created specifically for this two-parter which showed the alternate, warlike history of the Mirror Universe. That hasn’t been done in any other episode of any Trek series, making it unique.
Scorpion (Star Trek: Voyager)
Voyager started with such promise: a Federation starship stranded in a distant, unexplored region of the galaxy while integrating a group of Maquis (i.e. terrorist) operatives into their crew. Sadly, it never fully utilized or explored this set-up. Plus, the characters and plots didn’t always work or relied on gimmicks.
But then came this epic two-parter, which served as the third season finale and the fourth season premiere. It featured the first post-Star Trek: First Contactappearance of the terrifying Borg. This cybernetic horde was previously established as originating from the Delta Quadrant, the region of the galaxy the U.S.S. Voyager had been stranded in, so this was something bound to happen. However, the Borg had now encountered a race from another dimension so powerful, it could kick them around like a schoolyard bully. Dubbed Species 8472, they sought to destroy all life in our universe. Captain Janeway, desperate to get Voyager home, decides to “appeal to the devil” and offers to help the Borg fight Species 8472 in exchange for safe passage through the cyber-horde’s space. This causes conflict in the crew, showing how dysfunctional they could’ve been if written properly, but ultimately culminates in a harrowing war. The episode also marked the first appearance of arguably the series’ best character: the former Borg drone Seven of Nine.
If I had any complaints, it’s that the Borg started showing far too often after this and Species 8472 was all but de-fanged later.
Trials and Tribble-ations (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Twenty years ago for the franchise’s 30th anniversary, both Deep Space Nine and Voyager celebrated with special episodes. However, DS9’s is the best. In a much lighter episode than was typical of the series (you’ll see why farther down the list), Captain Sisko and crew are transported back in time to the TOS era—specifically to the fan-favorite episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”—by a Klingon spy who was exposed by Captain Kirk in that episode. What follows is a borderline meta-story with several of the DS9 characters “geeking out” as they try to thwart the Klingon villain’s plot without interfering with the timeline. There are some good-natured jokes poked at TOS, but it’s mostly a tribute.
The best scene, hands down, is when the DS9 character walk into a bar filled with TOS Klingons, who lack forehead ridges, and bombard Worf with questions trying to figure out what happened (this had been a longstanding point of confusion/contention among fans). Worf simply replied, “We don’t talk about it with outsiders.” (Enterprise would later explain it, for better or worse).
The episode was created using green screen technology that seamlessly added the DS9 actors into footage from the original episode. Classic sets were re-created. The episode is also notable for presenting the original Enterprise and the space station with CGI, setting the precedent for the remastered version of TOS that would come later.
Relics (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
Noticing a pattern with some of my entries on this list? If not, it’s that I like episodes that harken back to TOS (which is my favorite of the Trek series). While TNG featured appearances by three TOS characters, this is arguably the best. James Doohan reprises his role as Scotty, the engineer on the first two Enterprises whose repairs could defy physics. Here he is discovered by the Enterprise-D being held in a transporter buffer to survive his ship’s crash landing. He predictably clashes with Geordi la Forge, the more seriously-minded engineer of the new Enterprise, but they eventually team-up to save the ship from being trapped in a Dyson sphere.
The episode is definitely carried by Doohan, who plays Scotty as an old-timer past his prime living in an era he doesn’t understand and which doesn’t understand him. There’s a great moment where he goes to the holodeck and has it recreate the bridge of his Enterprise so he can reminisce (when the computer which Enterprise he wants, Scotty replies, “NCC one seven oh one. No bloody A, B, C, or D.”) He’s joined by Captain Picard, who shares a drink with him. It’s one of several great moments.
Amok Time (Star Trek: The Original Series)
This is one of the seminal episodes of TOS. People only passingly familiar with the series know about this episode. It did significant world-building regarding Vulcan culture and biology as well as explaining important parts of Spock’s background. It also features many of the common TOS tropes (like Kirk getting his shirt ripped). In this, Spock must return to home planet and take a wife before he dies from pon-farr, a time of madness when a Vulcan’s mating instincts kick into high-gear. It daringly touched on a difficult subject—sexuality—by couching it in an alien culture. It also saw the friendship between Kirk and Spock (and to a lesser extent those two and Dr. McCoy) tested to an extent not seen before and possibly never equaled since. The climax has Kirk fighting Spock to the death as part of an ancient Vulcan ritual. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s a great one.
This was an ambitious episode that spared no expense. It has a fairly large set for the surface of Vulcan and extensive costuming. The fight choreography is some of the best in the entire series. The tension runs high as the episode progresses. Leonard Nimoy gives one of his greatest performances as Spock. It’s also noteworthy for marking the first appearance of the famous Vulcan salute and the phrase, “Live long and prosper.”
The City on the Edge of Forever (Star Trek: The Original Series)
What?! This is only number five on my list when it’s usually regaled as the greatest episode of TOS! You can stone me later.
No Trek list is complete without it, so I had to include it. I don’t deny its greatness it’s just that there’s an episode I like a bit more. Regardless, it’s amazing, if you know of the episode’s storied production, that it turned out as great as it is. In this, Kirk and Spock travel back in time via the Guardian of Forever to prevent Dr. McCoy, who’s in a drug-induced mania, from altering the course of history. Kirk and Spock find themselves in Depression-era New York City, where they meet a woman named Edith Keeler who runs a homeless shelter. Despite the misery around her, she remains optimistic that humanity will one day reach the stars and end war. Kirk, predictably, falls in love with her. However, Spock discovers that she will die a week later. Complicating matters, he also figures out (because he’s Spock and he’s smarter than everyone) that McCoy will prevent her death, allowing her to lead an anti-war movement that keeps the United States out of WWII, allowing the Axis to win. So, Kirk faces a moral dilemma: does he save the woman he loves or save history?
This was the most expensive episode of the show’s first season, what with its location shooting and brand-new sets. But it’s the writing and acting that elevates the episode. William Shatner, known for his often hammy overacting, gives a heartbreaking, nuanced, and subdued performance. While the audience knows what’s coming, it still packs a potent punch. It’s a rare time where we see Kirk affected by one of his love interests. No wonder it’s ranked by many people who worked on the series as their favorite episode.
Tapestry (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
I know most people rank “The Inner Light” as the best Picard episode, but I always preferred this one. For one thing, I remember watching this more often than “The Inner Light” and connecting with it more. Plus, it has Q in it. No TNG list is complete without the nigh-omnipotent imp.
Picard seemingly dies and meets Q, who allows Kirk to inhabit the body of his younger self and prevent the heart injury that eventually led to his death. What follows is equal parts It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. Picard not only witnesses the events of his life, which included getting into a bar fight where he was stabbed through the heart, but he also gets a chance to make changes and see how his life would’ve been different. While he saves his life, he also never becomes the captain of the Enterprise-D and instead serves as an unremarkable junior officer. It forces him to choose between surviving and being ordinary or dying after extraordinary life.
The episode offered tremendous insight into Picard’s character and backstory. We see that he wasn’t always the level-headed diplomat of a captain he is now. We see the moment that changed his life. The episode also saw great development for Q, who evolved from being a petty imp to a nuanced, three-dimensional character. The brilliance of the episode (spoiler warning) is it’s never revealed if Picard’s experiences were real, a dream, or an illusion created by Q to teach Picard a lesson. Any of those could be true.
In the Pale Moonlight (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Remember what I said about DS9 being dark? This episode illustrates that in deep shadows! While many argue it doesn’t adhere to Roddenberry’s optimistic view of humanity or his vision for Star Trek, it’s quite possibly the best episode of DS9.
By this point in the series, the Federation was at war with a race of shapeshifting aliens from the Gamma Quadrant called the Dominion. The Dominion was determined to wipe out all the “solids” in the galaxy (their natural form is a gelatinous goo, hence the slur). The Federation had managed to make an alliance with the Klingon Empire, but the war wasn’t going well. The Romulan Empire was neutral in the conflict, but the Dominion had extended overtures to them. Their choice would tip the balance of power.
The story is told in flashback as Sisko records his confession in his log. Sisko knew from his dealings with the Dominion that they would destroy the Romulans once they won the war, but he had no evidence to prove it. With a Romulan ambassador soon to visit the station, he turned to Garak, a former spy, to manufacture evidence of the Dominion’s treachery. After a long string of shady dealings, the evidence is made and presented to the ambassador—who famously declares, “It’s a FAAAAAKE!” He says he will return to Romulus and expose this deception, but later Sisko learns that the ambassador’s ship exploded before it arrived. He confronts Garak, who confesses that he planted a bomb on the ambassador’s ship to make it look like the Dominion assassinated him. The episode ends with this haunting monologue from Sisko:
“So… I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all… I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. Garak was right about one thing, a guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant. So I will learn to live with it. Because I can live with it. I can live with it… Computer, erase that entire personal log.”
This story is rife with questions about morality. Is it right to compromise for the greater good? While Sisko’s assessments were probably true, he couldn’t prove it. The new alliance was predicated on a lie. Yet, as the end of the series shows, the end seems to justify the means because the alliance of these three powers won the war. There are no easy answers. Given that some Trek episodes were overly fond of pat answers, this story stands in stark contrast.
Balance of Terror (Star Trek: The Original Series)
This classic episode would come to define much of Star Trek to come, both in the series, the movies, and the spin-offs. It introduced the Romulans, who are an off-shoot of the Vulcans. While may have initially been done to reuse Nimoy’s make-up on other actors, the Romulans became an integral part of the Trek universe. It also featured actor Mark Leonard, who would later return as Spock’s father, Sarek.
The story is simple: the Enterprise is dispatched to the Neutral Zone to track down a ship that is destroying Federation outposts with a powerful new weapon. It turns out to be a Romulan bird-of-prey using a cloaking device and plasma torpedoes. What follows is what can be described as a submarine battle in space. The Enterprise and bird-of-prey stalk each other, attacking intermittently in the hopes of wounding or destroying the other. The Romulan ship is running low on fuel and simply needs to escape, yet it has the superior weaponry. The tension runs high. This would become the model for future battle scenes in the franchise up until the 2009 film.
But it’s more than simply a tale of war. The Romulan captain (Mark Leonard) is a valiant, clever, and honorable man fighting for his people. He’s no shallow villain. He respects Kirk, who in turn respects him. There’s an air of sadness when he is defeated. The episode also examines the human toll of war. A pair of young officers were having their wedding officiated by Kirk at the beginning of the episode before they were interrupted by the mission. The man dies during the battle, so the episode ends with Kirk trying to console the woman. It’s a touching moment that shows Kirk cares deeply for his crew and any loss they suffer affects him.
The Best of Both Worlds (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
This episode was lightning in a bottle. Everything came together. The script. The acting. The effects. The music. Plot points set up in previous episodes. The stakes are high. Picard, who usually tries to talk his way out of a fight, faces a powerful, ruthless enemy he can’t negotiate with. It forces everyone out of their comfort zones. It is truly a classic epic.
At first, the story is simple enough: the Borg arrive in Federation space intending to invade Earth. Amidst that, however, is a subplot where Cmd. Riker is offered a promotion to captain, something he frequently turned down to remain first officer on the Enterprise-D. These stories come to a head when the Borg capture Picard. Riker reluctantly accepts the promotion during the crisis and assumes command. Then they learn that Picard has been assimilated, so now he must face his own captain and the unstoppable Borg.
The moment that solidified this as classic comes at the end of part one. It was the first time a Star Trek series had a season-ending cliffhanger. La Forge has created a weapon he thought might destroy the Borg ship, but now Riker must choose between firing on the Borg and killing Picard or holding off to save him but risk the safety of billions. The camera zooms in on Riker’s face, he says, “Mister Worf…fire!” and it fades to black as the ominous choir sings. Given that there were rumors that Patrick Stewart (Picard) might not return to the show, it was conceivable Picard would die. It was a long, arduous summer.
Admittedly, part two isn’t as strong as part one, but it was still a satisfying and epic conclusion. It became a benchmark event in the history of the franchise and the history of the Trek universe with such things as the Battle of Wolf 359. The consequences of this two-parter were felt for many years.
Honestly, I could rave for hours about the episodes of Star Trek I love. The fact that I’ve already written this many astonishes me. I hope this sampler of my faves sparks your interest in the franchise. Considering all five series are on Netflix, you can easily binge through all 729 episodes!
The beauty of WordPress is I can schedule a blog to be automatically posted, which is what I did with this one. I actually wrote it a few days ago. Why did I do this? Because I’m in the middle of the “fortnight from Hell” at my day job. (Long story).
Anyway, I grew up in a Christian home, so I’m well-versed in the Christian subculture. Honestly, the older I’ve gotten, the more annoyed I am with it. Not so much that I’ve rejected my faith (I think Christian faith and Christian culture are two completely different things and may as well be mutually exclusive), but enough to see how they usually don’t match up.
I’m going to focus only on one particular facet today: the idea that “Christian” is a genre.
This idea was initially sparked a year or so ago when I was talking with a friend on the phone who said she didn’t want to read my books because they weren’t “Christian enough.” As in, they wouldn’t fit into the Christian “genre” as defined by booksellers.
Christians, despite being commanded to go into the world and make disciples (Matt. 28:16-20), have for many years seemed intent on isolating themselves from the rest of the world and creating their own little culture complete with its own brand of entertainment. It goes all the way back to 1970s with the advent of “contemporary Christian music” thanks to the Jesus Movement. This has since expanded in other forms of media. Most recently, “faith-based films” such as God’s Not Deadhave been popular the last few years.
While I have issues with the often poor artistic merits of many of these media (that’s a blog for another day), my biggest gripes with the so-called “Christian genre” are the mindsets it creates. First, it makes Christian culture very insular. I’ve known many fellow believers who refused to consume any media that wasn’t obviously Christian. In other words, listening to Carman was fine, but not Run-D.M.C. If it wasn’t didactic about faith, it was “too secular.” Some of it was even erroneously seen as satanic. These were things to be shielded against, especially when it came to kids (it’s always about the children, isn’t it?). So, new media was created by Christians for Christians. Considering the aforementioned often poor quality of their substitutes, it’s no wonder many Christians in the last 30-40 years grew up with bad senses of what makes good art. (Not to mention Christian creators were making obvious rip-offs of “secular” entertainment long before the Asylum. Anyone else remember the Spine Chillers Mysteries books?). It created an “us vs. them” mentality. It was about being “safe” and avoiding risky ideas that might challenge one’s faith.
Second, as I’ve already hinted at, it made “Christian” into a genre. Demon Hunter wasn’t just a metal band; they were a “Christian” metal band. (For the record, Demon Hunter is a genuinely great band). Like any genre, this automatically establishes the intended audience and the content (which, as I’ve noted, was often didactic and subpar). The problem is that “Christian” shouldn’t be a genre. It should be a philosophy, a worldview. Do atheists and other religions turn their beliefs into genres for the sake of marketing? For the most part, no. (Although some may do so in response to “Christian” stuff or as satire). In the history of literature, Christian authors didn’t concern themselves with whether their stories fit nicely into a “Christian genre”; they just told their stories. Think about how classics like Moby-Dick by Herman Melville or Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky or The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (did you really think I’d get through this without mentioning my all-time favorite book?) if they were published in today’s environment in Christian publishing. I have a feeling they’d either be rejected by Christian publishers or watered down in the editing process.
“Christian,” as I’ve said, is a worldview, not a genre. It’s something that, when done correctly, flows naturally into a creator’s work because it’s a part of him. Art is an expression of its creator, so it’s impossible for him to not imbue it with how he sees the world. But, as I’ve said for years, story must be king. The moment someone starts sermonizing in his story, whether it’s about religion or environmentalism or whatever, it brings the story down. The storyteller will lose his audience. Heck, even kids will see through that.
Readers and critics will discuss themes and ideas when dissecting a story, but they usually don’t do something like label Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game “Mormon fiction.” Those elements are part of that book because they’re part of Card. To tell his story honestly, he had to write it that way. He wasn’t trying to proselytize anyone. I know that to my fellow Christian creators that might sound crazy, even sacrilegious, but I believe your witness can be helped by not being didactic with your stories.
I’ve been listening to U2’s Greatest Hits albums while writing this blog. U2 is a Christian band (specifically, they’re Irish Catholic). Even a casual listen to their music makes that obvious. They don’t hide or flaunt that. They make their music and let it impact people. Jesus said you can know someone by their fruit (Matt. 7:15-20). That fruit doesn’t need to have “Apple” written on it for people to know what it is.