Clichés That Must Die

My God... It's full of fail...

April 4, 2011

UPDATE: Fellow blogger and long-time logophile Amy at Dark Archivist has a rebuttal to one point in this article. Touché, my friend.

If you’re anything like me, you love you some science fiction, fantasy, and horror. There’s nothing better than an epic space battle with battleships the size of Alaska blasting each other with nuclear-yield weapons, a suspenseful chase as a vicious killer chases the last remaining protagonist you actually like, or the swarms of eldritch sigils flying through the air as a practitioner of the dark arts invokes otherworldly powers to crush his foes.

Good times…

As much as I’m a fan of the genre, there are those things that just… bug me. Really bug me. They’re things that seem to have just taken hold of the collective imagination for both writers and fans. They’ve become standard, not necessarily something you choose to use. Imagine if you suddenly found out that you didn’t need to use a ball to play baseball and could use rocks, or if you learned that cars could easily be built with three wheels and we picked four because, well, someone did it like that first.

Possessed Mind by *tashythemushroom on deviantART

Nightgowns and Little Girls

Look at The Ring, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Exorcist, and The Last Exorcism. What do they have in common aside from mentally tormented young girls and an overuse of the term “exorcism”? If you guessed a white nightgown, you’re right.

I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure The Exorcist started this one. It made sense back then. Regan was a young girl who was thought to be sick, so it makes sense mommy dearest put her in her sleeping gown to make her comfortable. But why oh why did every woman dealing with a ghost or demon (or herself a ghost) have to wear this now? It’s like the similarly ridiculous “ black trench coat = mysterious badass” mentality.

Why not a hospital gown or even regular clothes? Why not just regular pajamas?  The easy answer is that such clothes can easily date a character, but a nightgown is something that, at least today, looks old. How many women out there own a nightgown like the ones worn in these films? Anyone?

Organic Space Ship v1 by ~bastilg on deviantART

We’re Fighting a Militarized Rutabaga

What’s that? An alien ship approaching your  interstellar flagship? Oh no! It’s organic! It appears to have been grown by an advanced civilization. All its systems are carbon-based weapons and armor. All your ship has is a laminated alloy hull with ceramic plates for heat dissipation, high-powered coilguns, and thermonuclear missiles.

Oh noes.

Really, though, this one is just plain annoying. It’s hard to really pin down where this one started. Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee Timeline stories have a version of this little cliché wherein the god-like Xeelee “grow” their technology, although it’s not organic, so the description is a bit vague. Babylon 5, Star Wars (New Jedi Order), and even Battlestar Galactica to an extent all used the assumption that organic technology is superior to simple metal and artificial materials designed from the ground up to perform a specific task.

Do you think “organic” is better? Would you rather wade into battle with a vest made of hardwood or advanced ceramics and Kevlar built to withstand such strain?

Would you rather have a dozen mathematicians in a room perform split second calculations for orbital reentry or have a single computer system built with accuracy to the trillionth degree?

Would you rather have an artificial  weapon, like a gun that fires ferrous slugs at a fraction the speed of light, or biological weapons that are indiscriminate, can be killed by extreme temperature and radiation, and may even mutate?

I’ll stick with metal and circuits, thank you.

Mexican Jedi. by ~VictorViin18 on deviantART

Where are the Brown People?

This one’s a personally sore spot for me. For a show like Star Trek, one which claims to be multicultural, to not have a single prominent Hispanic character besides the animalistic B’Elanna Torres is inexcusable. Want to know how many Hispanic characters I can count in speculative fiction?

Johnny Rico from Starship Troopers (the book, not the movie), Bender from Futurama, and Vazquez from Aliens.

Adama doesn’t count because although he’s played by a Mexican American actor, he does not portray a Hispanic character.

It seems that, in the future, there are no Mexicans, Ecuadorans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, or anything else. We’ve got Europeans, Asian-inspired culture to pander to the anime crowd, and some assorted ethnicities for flavoring. But where are the Mexicans?

Or the Costa Ricans? Brazilians? Chileans? Iraqis? Turks? Libyans? Anyone brown?

I really can’t find a good example of these demographics in speculative fiction. Sorry. Any idea?

Coca Cola by ~Telegraph-Road on deviantART

Why do writers still use these ideas? The best explanation is that at some point, it sounded or looked cool. The nightgown made sense from a storytelling perspective. Biological technology has some useful applications. At one point, Latin Americans were a fringe minority. We know better today, and yet these ideas linger on. These are only three little clichés, but I was thinking about them this weekend. There are many more, and maybe I’ll explain some later.

In the meantime, enjoy these links, and I’ll see you on Wednesday.  

  • We have some nice black bookshelves in the apartment, but if we have the time, money, and space, I’d certainly love to get one of these awesome bookcases.
  • And finally, I just barely watched The Hangover a few weeks ago and loved it. And now I can’t wait for the sequel. Check out the new trailer below, and I’ll see you on Wednesday!

An Open Letter to the Arizona State Legislature

Bienvenidos a Arizona! Para Inglés, apriete el dos...

April 28, 2010

To the Arizona State Legislature,

I want to make sure I understand what it is your new law on immigration will do. If police have reasonable cause to stop someone they feel is an illegal, they may ask for documentation proving citizenship. That’s the main point in a bill that has such redundant mandates as claiming that illegal immigrants are committing a crime (that’s already a crime) and that the state of Arizona may sue the police if they aren’t doing a good job (you’re going to sue yourselves). You will also require legal immigrants to carry identification that verifies they are, in fact, legal immigrants. That would include me if I ever went to Arizona.

Are we all on the same page now?

I’ve gone on and on about how Texas has such a bad reputation. We keep doing stupid things like backing up a governor who wants to secede and making stupid changes to our textbooks. When I said I wanted us to stop being so stupid, I didn’t mean to imply I wanted someone to be stupider.

More stupid… Oh, crap, it IS something in the water.

How exactly will you be enforcing this policy? What constitutes reasonable doubt in a state where one third of the population is Hispanic? Will you be arresting and searching people based on suspicion of Mexicaness? Driving while brown? What?

Let me make something absolutely clear. I am an immigrant. A *legal* immigrant. I have the papers, social security card, driver’s license, W9 forms, and work-related stress like every other American. I want tougher immigration laws, but I don’t want them to be at the expense of those of us that have run the obstacle course to get where we are.

“But Michel,” I can hear you say, “if you’re here legally, you have nothing to worry about, right?”

Wrong. I do. It’s been a while since I took social studies in eighth grade, but I seem to remember something about the Fourth Amendment.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In modern Americanese, this means law enforcement must have reasonable cause to search for and ask me for documentation. This is why even the almighty Lenny Briscoe needed a warrant.

Lennie by ~friede on deviantART

If a guy with dark skin is wet by the Rio Grande and he’s holding a bag with all his belongings, I bet you he didn’t just compete in a wet t-shirt contest. If a brown guy is driving a beat-up truck and is speaking Spanish, that is not probable cause.

Want to know how I know?

Could you tell the difference between a recent immigrant and an illegal immigrant? For years, we’ve had the national debate on whether we should teach dual language courses to students from other countries. I guarantee that many of these kids do learn English, but they will continue to speak Spanish at home. In fact, if you were to go into a recent immigrant household, you’ll find it a rough approximation of the life the family enjoyed in their native land.

I’ve lived here for years and I can’t tell who is a citizen and who isn’t a citizen. Are you going to go by accent? Well, there goes half the state. You could always go by clothes, like this knucklehead in Congress suggested.

Just say it, Congressman Bilbray. You’re looking for the sombrero, sarape, and guaraches. Newsflash: We don’t all look like Speedy Gonzales!

.:Speedy Gonzales:. by *Notorious-Osaka on deviantART

Do we need to do something about immigration? Of course, but we have to walk a fine line. This law will catch a lot of illegals. Do you mean to tell me that naturalization is not good enough? I am not equal to my fellow citizens and must carry a document stating I am here without breaking the law if I go to Arizona?

At what point did we forget about “innocent until proven guilty?”

And one more thing… You keep saying this isn’t about racial profiling. Will you be looking for Chinese immigrants too? Hey, I’m not really brown, but I could pass for western European. Think maybe I’m some socialist usurper? My girlfriend has some Middle Eastern blood in her. Think she could be a member of that infamous Mexican al-Qaeda?

There’s already been an incident because of this new law. It hasn’t gone into effect and you already detained a natural-born citizen because he didn’t have his birth certificate.

There is no way to enforce this law without racially profiling. And there is no way to get results without detaining law-abiding citizens. Do you wonder why, after 9/11, we didn’t start rounding up Muslims and general brown people just in case? Since blacks make up such a large section of our prison population, do you think anyone’s seriously considered just planting microchips on blacks or asking them to prove they’re not violating that parole you assume is the reason they’re out on the street? Better yet, let’s put those microchips into the illegals! Yeah, that should solve our problems!

Who Would Jesus Deport? by ~theatrum on deviantART

There is an immigration problem in this country. Don’t think I don’t know that. I see it first-hand. However, what you’ve done is a few steps shy of Japanese internment camps. You’ve ignored any notion of integration for the legal immigrant community. If the Hispanic community is mad it’s because we’ve been targeted. This is like performing an appendectomy with a Glock.

May your lawns grow wild and your babies feral as your gardeners and babysitters are arrested, you weak-willed, sycophantic bastards.

You can read Part 2 here.