Category Archives: Pop Culture

Thoughts from a snowflake

I stopped by an old friend’s apartment to commiserate tonight and to wait out the hellish Portland traffic.

We drank a couple of Sticky Hands IPAs, and I relived some Facebook conversations for him, since he quit it a few weeks ago.

I’m a little envious of this and tell him so.

But he’s not unaware of what’s going on. He knows about the latest antics of our orange wannabe dictator. He’s aware that the Senate silenced  a female member while allowing her male colleagues to read the same words she attempted to.

Continue reading Thoughts from a snowflake

Fidel

I looked up into the thick Havana air at the brightly-lit poster on the wall of an old, stone government building.

Viva Fidel 80

The old revolutionary was somewhere in this town in a compound contemplating his retirement announcement, which would happen just a few days later on my last day in Cuba.

The old man didn’t really even make it out for his 80th birthday celebration, and his thin and frail image on television barely registered in a country where his black-bearded and green fatigues image is as ubiquitous as the Cuban flag.  Continue reading Fidel

The False Narrative: Good Guys and Bad Guys

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 07:  Yulia Efimova of Russia celebrates winning the first Semifinal of the Women's 100m Breaststroke on Day 2 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 7, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – AUGUST 07: Yulia Efimova of Russia celebrates winning the first Semifinal of the Women’s 100m Breaststroke on Day 2 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 7, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

I watched a press conference this morning in which “journalists” interviewed Yulia Efimova and Lilly King about their now high-profile Olympic spat.

Except it’s not a spat.

It’s just storytelling, good, old-fashioned storytelling.

But it’s a false narrative, something the Russians excelled at when maniacal tyrents wanted to keep the populace fearfully paralyzed or reactionary enough to turn against their own.

And something that demagogues still use to manipulate our deepest fears and our irrational desires.

Yulia Efimova is not a bad guy.  Continue reading The False Narrative: Good Guys and Bad Guys

How the Olympics became so small

Olympic Rings by ZEVS
Olympic Rings by ZEVS

For the record, I did not plan to have surgery wherein the two-week, doctor-recommended recovery period would perfectly coincide with the Olympics.

I actually find watching the American Olympic coverage to be rather cloying, like beer that’s too sweet or warm sushi.

Much has changed since the last time I had the time to sit down and watch the Olympics in their entirety.

Continue reading How the Olympics became so small

What my daughter sees in fairy tales

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 1.58.02 PMMy wife and I watched Maleficent last night, and I found myself overly annoyed at the lack of redeemable male characters. Not heroes, mind you, but just decent human beings in the form of men.

And that got me thinking about what my daughter will see when I watch it with the kids tonight for Saturday Dinner and a Movie.

I’ve been reading princes stories to my daughter for the last year or so. We started with George MacDonald’s princess stories, The Light Princess, The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and Curdie and we went through all the traditional princess from the Brothers Grimm to Disney.

It’s partly because she’s eight, and she loves princess stories. It’s partly because I want to understand the message these stories are portraying so I can help her process them in our current age. I did not grow up hearing princess stories, so it’s a discovery process for both of us.

And it’s partly because the world is obsessed with fairy tales right now. Or perhaps it always has been.

Continue reading What my daughter sees in fairy tales

This Disconnected Reality: Putin, Oscar and the Last Great Race on Earth

blog

I’ve had three things on my mind today, and each deserves a separate post.

The more I think about them, the more I realize they’re quite interconnected, at least in my own mind. See if you see what I’m seeing.

Return of the Cold War: Russia invades Ukraine

Putin is a bully, and the world needs to stop allowing him to prance around bare-chested with a fishing pole in his hands while millions of Slavic people suffer the whims of the ultra rich, those corrupt and bankrupt souls of the post Communist era. Ukraine is more important than most people think. Obama is showing off just how weak our foreign policy is these days, and as someone so eloquently wrote today, Putin is playing chess, while Obama is playing checkers. America cannot possibly intervene, at least militarily, in all of the world’s conflicts, but it can stay consistent in its messaging and follow-through on its threats. For those of you who say let Putin have Crimea, you might as well just toss in the rest of Ukraine too. It’s a toe-hold on one of the world’s most important regions. For those of you who ask why we should care, I say it’s much harder to catch a strongman who is killing people slowly through neglect or starvation when he already owns everything in sight. It’s much easier to stop a strongman when he is aggressively peeing on the fences around his own home than when he’s killed the neighbors and claimed their lands for himself.

Continue reading This Disconnected Reality: Putin, Oscar and the Last Great Race on Earth

No More Happy Holidays

Happy holidays, man.

I hear it a lot. It’s awkward, indirect and frankly cold and inhospitable.

They look at you and try to guess at your religious orientation, as if gaydar had some denominational equivalent.

Hmmm, is he Catholic, Jewish, Methodist or agnostic?

And then it comes, halfheartedly, because it doesn’t really mean anything more than enjoy your vacation – happy holidays, man.

As the son-of-a-preacher, missionary kid, I take a beating every time I hear the term. A beating of conscience. 

There’s a quest, so to speak, to put right the wrongs or perceived wrongs of what I would consider the overzealous religious types. Those who do not recognize anything beyond their own beliefs. Those who forget that our country was founded on religious freedom, not the mores of a single religious group.

I’m guilty of issuing a lot of happy holidays myself, albeit in a spirit of reconciliation. I’ve overcompensated for the religious right while hoping for something a little more centrist.

But this year it struck me that I’ve wished a number of friends happy Hanukkah, ‘Eid Sa’īd or a warmest Diwali.

And for the first time in a long, long time, I heard that rarest of seasonal greetings – Merry Christmas!

It struck me like an awkward chord, something I hadn’t heard in a long time. It wasn’t wrong, it just didn’t sound right. Not in the belly of the big city, the liberal bastion of a blue state.

Happy holidays is technically correct when three of the biggest holidays fall within a month of each other.

But we all know that we cram them all together to avoid offending those who don’t believe in Santa Claus.

Like bland food, let’s do away with it once and for all.

No more happy holidays.

Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, my friends.

 

 

Redemption and the anti-hero: Breaking Down Breaking Bad

 

An Essay by Tim Akimoff

Warning: Contains Spoilers

At the end of last night’s series finale of “Breaking Bad,” my wife and I ended up discussing when we started watching the show and who brought home the first season on DVD.

Of all the things we could have discussed, this was not my first choice, But it was what came to mind as we both processed the show’s finale.

We are both members of Generation X, the dropout generation. And yet when the lilting melody of the Marty Robbins song, “El Paso,” came on to start the show, we could sing every word along with the golden-voiced cowboy. Because our dads both sang the song to us when we were little.

And in going back over the years of watching the show in Montana, where I was a newspaper reporter to Alaska, where I worked in television and we binge-watched during the cold, long nights and finally, to Illinois, where we sat and watched the show together in a house in a cozy little South Western suburb of Chicago, I realized that I had made a promise to myself many years ago. That I, a kid who grew up with super heroes, would come to understand why we are all now so in-love with the anti-hero.

The super heroes I grew up with were flawed in some ways. This allowed them to look more human, more normal. But their supernatural powers covered their flaws rather nicely.

Our ability to relate to our super heroes diminished with age. As we realized we could not leap tall buildings in a single bound nor become invisible at will, we traded our super heroes for ordinary, every day heroes. Firemen, police, teachers or our parents.

For some, they are enough. Faith in humanity rests on the perceived goodness of their hall of heroes.

For others, especially those of us who have witnessed the calamitous wreck of the soul that is a hero’s fall from grace, their is no redemption.

When your pastor has a 6-year affair with another pastor’s wife, redemption does not take place in the hearts and minds of those who were in his care.

Forgiveness, yes, but not redemption.

When your teacher is arrested for possessing child porn or your father for embezzlement, redemption is not a part of the equation for those who are directly in the sphere of influence.

The rise of the anti-hero, is, in my opinion, a natural exploration of the depths of a human soul in relation to the ethical and moral standards we have created as a society.

Walter White allowed us to see into the depths of a soul that, while completely sensationalized for the sake of television, is close enough to our own experiences to feel empathy, or pity or perhaps anger.

At first we wanted Walt to succeed, because sometimes we want the bad guys to get away with it, especially if the bad guy looks like us.

We empathized with Walt for the cancer, and we easily traded one evil diagnosis for an unknown consequence – methmaking.

Walt’s bumbling antics are a mirror of our own, should we ever decide to take up the cooking of meth.

Walt’s decisions reeked of desperation, which so many of us feel any given day with the freakishly fragile economy and the ongoing global hot-spotting by our government.

But we are not Walt. And he is not us. He is an anti-hero. The new archetype that we look to for solace and to see what we might possibly become. How far we could fall. And whether or not redemption is possible. Walt is our safety net.

Tony Soprano, Don Draper and Omar Little are a few of these soul mirrors. There are fewer female anti-heroes, but that is a question for another post.

Have you ever filled out material for a job application that required you to answer a seemingly bizarre set of questions? Questions like: When the bad guy gets away with a crime on television, do you feel good for that character, or does it make you feel bad?

We all desperately want to know what we could get away with, because we are all somewhat warped. It is part of the human condition. There are none among us who are perfect, but we have created pedestals for those we deem close enough.

Then we are crestfallen when their plaster crumbles, revealing their humanity.

Walt started off humbly enough, entering a world he knew nothing about on seemingly altruistic purposes.

But as the show continued, we see our soul mirror delve so deeply into the world of crime, we lose our connection with him.

At some point, it’s an exercise in endurance. Just how evil can a human like us become before they cease to exist as a recognizable human? What or when is the point of no return?

Many people said Walter White could not be redeemed. That his self delusion was so great, that he could never recover. What most people don’t know is that redemption is less recognizable in death and yet it’s somehow more common.

But I would argue that what made “Breaking Bad” one of the greatest shows of all time is precisely the fact that we waited until the bitter end with baited breath to see if Walt’s lost soul could come crawling back toward humanity even by just a few inches.

And we were rewarded with a successful, if sentimental, ending to Walt that answered not just the question above, perhaps it even answered a more universal question about the capacity of our souls.

Walt has done selfless things throughout the series, which reminds us that he still is tethered to us. But his capacity for evil became greater throughout the series. He learned it from others, and he developed an alter-ego, Heisenberg, like an anti-hero’s cape or mask, to further explore a new world powered by his delusions of grandeur.

But in the end, it was not Heisenberg who figured out how to preserve his hard work for his children, it was Walter White, husband, father, teacher, cancer patient and criminal mastermind.

In the end, Walt was us. A Volvo-driving suburban-dwelling father of two who delved too deeply and who had to pay the consequences of his actions.

In the end, Walt owns up to his delusions, when he tells Skyler that he did it for himself.

Walter White is us when he says he did it because he felt so alive, and if you measure the things people do to feel alive today, you can see quite a range, including wing diving and parachuting from space.

It’s true that Walter White did what he did out of love. But it was a love of self. And if you want to see the true depth of the soul in matters of evil, Walt is a pretty good barometer.

For me, Walt was a mirror image of our capacity to love and hurt those we are closest to by our delusions of grandeur. In the end, Walt loved his short-lived empire more than himself.

He loved Jesse enough to try and save him from the devastating hail of bullets. He loved Skyler enough to give her a way out, and as the beleaguered soul is inclined to do, he loved his kids enough to contrive a way to give them his ill-gotten fortune.

It’s not romantic, and it’s not even slightly heroic. It’s just the vast span of the soul from inherently evil to immortality.