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!

Son of Texas Will Make Your Kids Stupid: Part 2

Remember: The Ministry of Truth is watching you to make sure you learn only party-approved facts.

April 12, 2010

The article regarding Texas’ change in history and social studies books got a lot of attention from regular readers and others who only read that one article after it was forwarded to friends of friends and others in the educational field. Recently, though, I got into a bit of a debate on Facebook about some of the points in the article.

The mighty battle raged across the internet. Entire forums fell before the apocalyptic clash of ideas. Fields of code burned while we fought an intellectual battle with every weapon at our disposal. A valkyrie flew over us and waited to take the fallen to the glory of Valhalla…

At least, that’s how I want to remember a spat over several Facebook posts that I actually got so involved in that I kept waiting for this guy’s responses. Sometimes I swear the internet is like cocaine-laced chocolate served by Salma Hayek.

Anyway, my opponent raised several points, but he failed to convince me, and for good reason. They’re some of the same points I’ve heard throughout college and in many debates over what to teach students. On the surface, some of these arguments made me pause… except that I quickly remembered why they were wrong.

Keep in mind that these are paraphrased from the original discussion.

1) If you don’t like the school, just send your kid to another school.

Sorry, but no dice. This assumes that every family can afford private school or home-schooling. Even if you moved a student to another district, this won’t change the curriculum since ALL public schools must follow the same rules and teach the same things the state mandates. Even if, somehow, you have the option and the will to just move to another state with better standards, these changes in the Texas textbooks will leak into other states in the next few years anyway.

It’s like trying to escape a zombie plague by moving to another town. Eventually, the brain-eating aberrations are going to come after you.

2) People are smarter than you give them credit for. When faced with lies and propaganda, people can think critically and make their own informed decisions.

Which is, I’m sure, why propaganda has never been an effective tool of governments, religions, and other groups, right?

Propaganda is dangerous because it mixes lies with truth and half-truths. When you appeal to a person’s emotions first, then back it up with facts, you’ve already led that person to a predetermined decision. Thinking critically is useless if you don’t have the right information. It’s as simple as that. If you were to raise a generation of students on the fertilizer-worthy material in the new Texas curriculum, you could have the wisest of the wise, real Doogie Howser/ Einstein clones, but if they’re cooking with urinal cakes, you can’t make much.

Learning the “truth” later becomes a struggle. People who fervently believe Obama was born outside the United States, for example, hold on to that belief so much that even after it’s been proven by third parties that he was born in this country, they refuse to believe it. Their reality is different, so anything that conflicts with that reality must be fake.

Media Propaganda by ~Trosious on deviantART

3) People like you are just as bad as the Texas Board of Education. You believe you know how others should raise their children. The other side probably thinks your kids are just as brainwashed.

I’m going to award half a point for this one. I do, in fact, believe I know how others should raise their children. Parents need to raise children that can function within society and can grow into productive adults. The purpose of school is to teach a broad group of students something they can use in the real world. It is not to promote agendas or teach people what to think, but how to think.

As for brainwashing, the term specifically applies to mind control, the unethical coercion of a person in order to make him or her believe something. Essentially, the person has lost the choice. Whether it’s parents or teachers, no one has the right to force a belief on anyone else. If we present a broad, accurate depiction of events, we can analyze, debate, and argue the point.

We cannot argue, for example, whether or not the United States actually dropped a nuke on Japan. Willfully denying information and misleading a child is evil.

Yes, I said it.

It’s evil. By taking away the ability to choose by using false information, you have taken away the most basic freedom. Without choice, everything else falls apart. So, yes, I do believe I know how people should raise their kids. Be honest with them. If you have to lie to make them believe something you believe in, look at your own beliefs first.

A Clockwork Orange by ~TayterTots on deviantART

4) Fighting for federal standards like this is just like fighting for Big Brother’s Ministry of Truth. It’s ALL propaganda.

Again, I’m not advocating liberal OR conservative teaching of history. I’m advocating a free forum where someone with an education imparts facts onto students, then teaches students how to analyze those facts and come to their own conclusions. Going back to the example above, I once took a class whose sole purpose was the debate of whether the United States was justified in dropping two nukes on Japan.

No one in the class debated the facts. Some were contested facts, such as reports before the attack that said nuking Japan was unnecessary. After the war, other reports came out claiming the nukes were necessary to save millions of American lives. These reports are real. What we had to figure out, as historians and students, was whether there was any racial bias against the Japanese. Did the second reports come out after the fact as justification? Where they simply adjusted figures based on new intelligence?

A bad class would have been one in which we were simply told we had to drop the bomb. End of story. A good class is one where the act is mentioned.

Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas after the Vikings beat him to it. This act also led to the genocide of the natives. All facts, all relevant. No mention of Columbus’ intents. If there are records from the man himself on what he wanted to do, a teacher could use these, but facts are facts.

I do, however, want to point something out. This mentality that schools indoctrinate students into certain ways of thinking is much more prevalent in the social and art programs. Science courses such as physics, biology, chemistry, and such don’t have this because their disciplines must, by their very natures, change with new information and emotion has no bearing on scientific observations. English and philosophy, for example, can be highly subjective. Even if one person believes the Earth is a few billion years old and another thinks it was made in six days, both scientists will agree that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen.

As an aside, bringing up the Ministry of Truth when I want schools to show facts is akin to saying I’m like Ghengis Khan because I give to the Salvation Army. The Ministry of Truth was involved with the willful alteration of records to present political ideology in a positive light. It changes facts and presents a narrative that paints the world a certain way.

1984 by ~venomalienz on deviantART

5) You can’t present ALL the ideas. Do you devote 50% of the time to the religious ideology and 50% to the secular? How much time do you devote to Buddhism, Druidism, or Islam?

Once again, I am not saying that we need to teach students everything. No university would make the claim its English department covers all possible aspects of literature. No Physics department would claim to cover every specialization from particle physics to quantum theory.

It’s not a question of devoting time to every argument and ideology because, quite frankly, not every ideology is equal in its impact on American society. Christianity, for example, should be heavily discussed because it has had a profound impact on many aspects of American society and is a driving force in modern politics. I doubt a history class, though, would spend too much time covering things like Shintoism or Druidism. While these may be mentioned and briefly explained, in the context of American history, they have not been as prominent as other movements.

Again, you can study these once you reach an academic level where you specialize in such groups, but a public school cannot go over everything. No one is advocating such a thing. What I want is a comprehensive overview, and the ideas that do get presented are presented because of the tangible effect they have on society. It’s not a popularity contest.

Imperial Texas Flag by ~GeneralHelghast on deviantART

6) Debating what the government should teach children does very little to actually educate children, but it does line the pockets of politicians and unions.

Wrong. Debating what public schools teach children is at the CORE of educating children. We have a system in place that says that all children must attend school. Why? Because we believe school, education, the learning facts and the knowledge to apply said facts and think critically are important traits. What and how these kids get taught is the FIRST thing we need to decide. Still think it’s a waste of time?

I think we should stop voting for representatives in Congress because those elections don’t pass laws. I also think we shouldn’t go the doctor because that consult doesn’t instantly cure my headache.

they’re selling make believe by =scarredbutnotbroken on deviantART

7) It’s indoctrination, no matter how way you shape it. You just want to indoctrinate them to what you want to do.

Actually… I do. I want to indoctrinate them into the Church of Use Critical Thinking to Analyze Reality in an Unbiased Manner Before Making Knee-Jerk Reactions, or CUCTARUMBMKJR.

We’re still working on the name.

This kind of argument assumes that everything has a political point of view, but science isn’t about philosophies and who you vote for. It seeks to describe. That’s it. When Darwin proposed the theory of evolution, he didn’t do it from some radical anti-religion agenda. The observations he made in the Galapagos Islands led to a new branch of science that explains speciation, adaptation, and provides a history of life on this planet that excludes the Garden of Eden.

As Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

I’ve said it a dozen times now, but a school is not a place for political indoctrination. There are, however, several unavoidable facts. The Catholic Church engaged in crusades against unbelievers. Democrats failed to successfully use their majority in Congress over the last few years to pass significant reform. Radical Islam uses terror tactics both in the Middle East and here at home.

All facts… and they must be discussed in context and with an appropriate respect for academic discussion. A good educator cannot presume to give his or her take on the ideologies involved. I’ve been asked for my take on certain topics during class, and if I decide it would serve a purpose such as providing a particular perspective for an essay, I share my point of view with the very clear understanding that it is an opinion and they are in no way obligated to agree with me.

Indoctrination by ~chaos-of-fire on deviantART

When I say that I am against the changes in the Texas curriculum, it’s not because I want a liberal view of history. That would be equally terrible. I want students to have enough information and the right training to critically think about the issues. If they change their minds and become liberal, fine. If they think on all the facts and remain where they are, at least they were given the choice to look at as many ideas as possible.

Basically you can tell me that Jesus was betrayed by one of his apostles. Like Dylan once said, though “You’ll have to decide whether Judas Iscariot had God on his side.”