Saturday, August 18, 2012

Plunging into the Great Steroid Debate

            Cheating is wrong. That’s what every child is taught from the moment he or she is old enough to take a test at school or play a board game. It’s the fundamental principle that underlies every sport and competitive event, a seemingly basic standard that all are expected to abide by regardless of circumstance or level of competition. As naïve as it sounds, I’d like to believe that the concept of fairness holds significant value even in the cutthroat, money-driven world of pro sports, that the athletes and teams I root for have the integrity and sense of self-worth to maintain an even playing field and that the outcome of each game, each season is determined by talent, hard work and a pinch – or an ocean – of luck. It’s a glorious, ideal world, so simple and alluring compared to our mundane, messy everyday lives.

            Then, every so often, reality will casually stroll by and slap you in the face, just as it did this past Wednesday, when the San Francisco Giants’ outfielder Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 games by MLB after testing positive for testosterone, an illegal performance-enhancing drug. Previously playing for the Yankees, Braves and Royals, Cabrera was traded to the Giants during the offseason in exchange for pitcher Jonathan Sanchez (we can all agree the Giants still, hands-down, won that swap, right?). He emerged in 2012 as a stunning offensive force, finding himself in the National League All Star starting lineup and putting up a number of impressive stats, including a .346 batting average that put him in line for the NL batting title (which, for those of you who might not know, goes to the player with the highest average at the end of each season). With this suspension, Cabrera has not only tarnished his individual reputation, but also put in jeopardy the season of his team, which has been spent the past couple of months locked in a tight battle with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League West division lead. That potential batting title, however, is apparently still his to lose.

At least we probably won’t have to see these dorky "Melkmen" costumes anymore.

Friday, August 10, 2012

How to Breathe Life into a Fictional Character

There is a debate that rages among writers, both amateur and professional, over the importance of plot versus character. Personally, I don’t think one is inherently more essential than the other (they’re equally indispensable elements of any story), but I’ll admit that I’m somewhat partial toward characters, if only because the act of creating fictional people that I inevitably find more interesting than anyone I’ve met in real life has always been one of my favorite parts of writing. Besides, for me, plot tends to be: people talk + random arguments + a big blur of shit happening that I’ll figure out later.

Anyway, not that I’m a genius with character development or anything, but here is some advice that you might want to heed when populating your novel/short story/script/fan fic/whatever:

Know your characters. This one seems pretty obvious, but it’s also probably the hardest aspect of character development and perhaps even writing in general. Anyone can just throw a bunch of adjectives together and call it a character, but a good writer can delve into a character’s mind and recite obscure details about his backstory and inner psychology like a therapist analyzing his patient. If someone asks you what your main character did on her 10th birthday, you better be able come up with an answer. Even if you never end up using that particular piece of info in your story, it’s always good to be aware of it, just in case. Who knows? That one obscure, seemingly trivial detail could unlock entirely new doors for your character and shed light on some shadowy corner that you never would have seen otherwise. Besides, if you’re anything like me, creating characters is like wandering through a labyrinth: it’s complicated and maybe even frustrating at times, but it’s addictive as hell, and each turn brings with it a giddy rush of realization that there’s still more left to discover.  I could spend hours, days, weeks, exploring my characters and digging up information about their lives and personalities, their highest hopes and deepest, darkest secrets, wondering what makes them unhappy (advice-inside-advice: happy characters are boring characters) and what kind of music they listen to. I do it partly because it distracts me from actually writing my story, but I also do it because it’s fun and it lets my imagination soar.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Golden Age of Superheroes


           At one point during Joss Whedon’s mega-blockbuster The Avengers, Nick Fury muses that heroes are “an old-fashioned notion”. Indeed, after the Cold War, Watergate, 9/11 and dozens of other scandals, controversies and tragedies, the idea of superheroes – extraordinary individuals who combat evildoers and protect their societies with the help of a secret identity – seems hopelessly naïve. Even as we admire the physical and moral qualities of superheroes, we can’t quite get rid of that thought nagging at the back of our minds: why should we put the safety of the community, if not the entire world, in the hands of a guy dressed in spandex tights, who is just as fallible as the rest of us? The whole idea isn’t inspiring so much as ridiculous and more than a little elitist. 

            So, it seems paradoxical to say that 2012, a year that has seen the U.S. mired in seemingly endless economic turmoil and an already-tiresome presidential campaign, represents the Golden Age of superhero movies. The 21st century has been largely defined by cynicism, bitterness and gloom, yet never has the superhero genre, one almost relentless in its romanticism and naiveté, been so popular, so mainstream. And to cap it all off, this year – this summer, to be more specific – heralded the release of three of the most eagerly anticipated superhero movies in history, a holy triumvirate that brought a decade-long struggle for acceptance to its rousing (and lucrative) climax: The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man and, at long last, The Dark Knight Rises. What’s remarkable about these films is not the overwhelming hype leading up to them or their inevitable annihilation of the box office but the fact that collectively, they showcase everything that superhero movies are capable of, embracing the genre’s tropes while also pushing its boundaries in subtle and exciting ways. Enjoy this, fellow moviegoers: we’re witnessing the end of an era, a genre at its best, and more likely than not, we’ll never see anything like it again.