Nerdy Saturday: no longer.

I’ve been thinking about what exactly I’m trying to accomplish with the “Nerdy Saturday” theme. As I’ve been writing such posts I have developed a few problems with it. First of all, I have a disdain for labels generally, in particularly the “nerd” label. I’ve been using it as the same shortcut that everybody else is using. But it feels diminishing precisely because of the way it’s become used in today’s pop culture. Then, on top of that, I still remember the days of it’s “classical” use applied to me by bullies on the playground.

Secondly, I don’t have as much of a foot in that culture after all. My initial intent was to write about different aspects of such pop culture that I had something to say about, such as when I wrote about sexuality in The Transformers and the continuity of Red Dwarf. But my interests that could be considered “nerdy” are few and far between. I think what I was trying to do was justify to myself the ability to write such posts while still being “adult.” By describing what I was doing as “nerdy” right up front made it feel somehow safer. I don’t like that I was doing that or what that says about myself.

Finally, one of the problems I’ve had with the “Nerdy Saturday” theme was that I’ve been shifting a lot of interests in my life lately. I’ve mentioned on this blog before that almost two months ago I had gone through some crisis in my life that forced me to finally accept that I’m asexual. I no longer feel the need to try to be something that I’m not. In that a lot of things have been rattling around in my head and settling in place. I’m feeling the need these days for self-discovery. One such aspect of that is finally becoming the Goth that I knew in the back of my mind I needed to be for years. As such, for a while I’ve had the inclination to think that this new aspect of my personality would conflict with the “nerd” side.

I’ve easily shot this last point down. My fandom hasn’t changed for certain forms of entertainment. There’s no reason that I can’t have these so-called “dorkdoms” and be a Goth.* But just like I have no interest in turning this into a blog with a Gothic theme I don’t see the need to make it nerdy, either. I’m still going to stick with theme days for blog topics, but this isn’t going to be of them anymore. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet.


*I should say that I’m more of a Goth in transition at the moment. I’m wearing all black as I write this although that’s nothing new. However, I haven’t really worn black nail polish or eyeliner in public that often before today. I still need to develop more of a wardrobe (and  get better at applying the eyeliner… trust me) but it can be rather expensive. At the moment I’m wearing a black suit accented by a pentagram pendent. I guess this counts but aside from the make-up I still feel I look too “normal.” By the way, I’m fully aware that I just said I don’t like labels all that much. There’s still some that I find useful.

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Nerdy Saturday: Batman’s secret identity?

For a while now I intended on writing a blog post in the “Nerdy Saturday” series* regarding superheroes and why do they need to conceal their true identities. But that’s too big a project for a casual comic reader like myself. I know that Marvel did a whole thing about it with the first Civil War story but I didn’t read the whole thing. It all comes down to each individual character and his/her/its own reasons for needing to keep their real identity a secret. But sometimes it seems confusing as to why particular characters do this in-story. It’s a well-worn comic convention that sometimes seems to be used only because it’s a well-worn comic convention.

For today, I really just want to focus on Batman, specifically the sixties television version (big surprise**). In some story lines in the larger Batman mythos it makes sense that Bruce Wayne would want to keep his crime-fighting activities a secret as Batman is regarded as a dangerous criminal by the public at large. Sometimes he’s used by the police but only as a last resort, as he’s technically a vigilante and thereby breaking the law by fighting law-breakers. But in the television show, Batman worked directly with the police, often repeating the fact that he and Robin are fully deputized agents of the law.

So why all of the secrecy? We’ve seen in the show that both Batman and Bruce Wayne are highly respected. Bruce Wayne’s mansion has been a target for crooks time and again, so it’s not like they’ll target his place just for revenge. The only reason that I can think of is it keeps the location of the Batcave secret. But that’s not really a strong point to make. Batman could still make it known who he is while keeping the location of the Batcave secret from everybody. They just may have to move it away from Wayne Manor.

It makes sense that Barbara Gordon would want to keep her secret identity as Batgirl a secret from her father. It even makes sense that knowing that Dick Grayson is Robin the Boy Wonder might give his Aunt Harriet a heart attack. But what does Bruce Wayne have to lose? With the location of the Batcave and Robin’s aunt he does have some reasons, but ultimately I can’t see how it would make any difference to his career as a crime-fighter. Even if the world at large can’t know, why not the chief of police?

The show was based on the comic books, and if the convention in the comics was established that he kept his identity secret, then the show followed suit. And of course, it’s all in good fun. But I have to wonder that if the show had continued past the third season if he would open up to more people.


 

*Yeah, I know, I’m late again. But at least this time I’m getting it done and out of the way first thing on Sunday morning. I do plan on writing  a “Sunday List” later today.

**I realize that I’ve narrowed my “Nerdy Saturday” posts to just a few aspects of pop culture. It wasn’t until after I started this that I realized that I don’t have that many nerdy interests. At least, I don’t have extensive knowledge for that many. I became worried that I wasn’t going to vary the subject matter enough to have posts on this series. I decided that I’m going to willingly focus on the few things I know about for now, and hopefully pick up more information about all of these other comics, video games, etc. as time goes on.

Sunday (nerdy) list: top five cyborgs.

Ever since I was a kid I was fascinated by cyborgs in science fiction. When cartoons started gearing more towards the sci-fi bent cyborgs started showing up everywhere. I didn’t have any interest in cyborg characters in such things other than they looked cool. But the fascination stuck with me for years. Part of it may have something to do with the possibility of extending one’s life with cybernetics. There’s also an intriguing question of where the person ends and where the machine begins, or if the machine is in fact part of the person. It could also just still be that they look cool.

So, as I had to combine yesterday’s Nerdy Saturday post with today’s Sunday List, I’m going to throw together my list of top five cyborgs. There’s no ascending or descending order of desirability of the entries, nor are these necessarily my favorite cyborgs in fiction. I’m sure I’ll remember more tomorrow that I forgot to put here. But I still find these specific examples interesting, and in some cases underrated.

I’m going to place a couple of limits here and say what I’m not going to include. In the broadest sense of the word, I’m a cyborg because I wear glasses to augment my vision. I’m using the more generally accepted sense of “cyborg” as it’s used in science fiction, in which a robotic component to a person’s body is connected directly to the nervous system in order to either replace a person’s biological body part or enhance their physical capabilities.

Likewise, I’m not going to include the “cyborgs” from the Terminator franchise. I never understood why the biological tissue was there other than to give Arnold an acting job as the robots can function perfectly well without the biological components. I also never understood how the skin is actually connected to the robotic parts anyway. It just seems to be more of a garment than anything else. Finally, I prefer the idea that a cyborg still has the biological brain, or at least enough of it that the original person is still intact in there, somewhere.

  1. Hugh. I could include the entire Borg race from the Star Trek franchise. But this time I wanted to include the first drone that we’ve actually seen freed from the collective.* Unlike such drones in Voyager, Hugh never regains his a former identity of before he was assimilated. Instead, his individuality forms on his own, and he has to discover who he is. He goes through further growth when he aids the crew of the Enterprise in defeating Lore and his cult of former drones from Hugh’s former Borg ship.
  2. Master Cylinder. I’ll admit that it’s been years since I’ve seen a Felix the Cat cartoon. But I remember that even when I had I was surprised to see a cyborg character in a child’s cartoon from that time period. Master Cylinder was a mad scientist who put his brain inside a giant cylinder body. Somehow this made him more of an adversary to Felix than the average antagonist wanting to steal his magic bag. He was also kind of creepy.
  3. The Go-bots. Speaking of cartoons, I thought I would include the entire population of Gobotron. You may remember this as one of the chief competitors to The Transformers in the eighties. You may not remember, though that unlike their more successful contemporaries, they aren’t living robots, but in fact organic aliens that transplanted their brains into robot bodies to save themselves from extinction. A bit like Robotix but with a better theme song.
  4. Deathlok. There’s been several Marvel characters carrying the name of Deathlok with a similar premise of having been turned into cyborg soldiers by their government. There’s something promising about a character that has to wrestle control away from his cybernetic parts. There’s a lot of story potential with a pacifist turned into a killing machine by his government. So where’s the Deathlok movie already?
  5. Robo-Cop. Well, it may not be exactly the same but a similar premise. With the Robo-Cop movies, though, the government doesn’t have total control over Robo-Cop. They try but his former humanity always re-asserts itself over any software they install into his system. He’s been turned into a superhero in the cartoons, video games and even the third movie (he could fly) but the original film was pretty disturbing with its dystopian setting and philosophical statements about corruption in a decaying society.

*One could argue that that honer would go to Locutus, but he was a step above a drone. Besides, we never actually saw how extensive the Borg technology was used on him; it almost looked like the equipment was added to his body rather than replacing any of it.

Tomorrow’s post with have more of that nerdy flavor, I promise.

I’m going to again combine this week’s Nerdy Saturday post with tomorrow’s Sunday List post. I’m seriously considering dropping the Nerdy Saturday idea, as it’s been more trouble to come up with topics that I realize. Whenever I wanted to do “nerdy” ideas before they were sporadic. I don’t think it’s something I can keep up with from week to week. Maybe I’ll just absorb these interests into other blog post topics from time to time.

Likewise, I’m also thinking about dropping any sort of news-related blog post on Fridays. I may at least try writing them on a different day. I just spend a lot of time on Friday afternoons and evenings unwinding to pay attention to the news. Perhaps I’ll give it more of a go on Thursdays.

Nerdy Saturday: Is it all just one multiverse?

In science fiction, the concept of the multiverse has been a very popular tool for storytelling. It can be used to tell “what if” stories, focusing on what would happen with major story lines in a franchise should they go in a different direction It can be used to provide a fun way to see alternate versions of favorite characters, such as in the mirror universe of Star Trek. It also serves to help when rebooting popular toy and video game franchises, keeping the stories fresh and hopefully selling more product. The concept of the multiverse can even be used as a cheap way to explain away continuity mistakes.

I should note that for the sake of this blog post, when I say “multiverse” I’m referring to the popular culture definition—the overall collection of infinite multiple universes, which may be completely similar with the exception of one leaf in a park in Oslo, to the laws of physics completely different and unrecognizable to us. I realize that there are other definitions of the term. For an interesting discussion on the topic, I refer you to a recent episode of Star Talk in which the concept used by scientists is defined.

Where do we draw the line for where one multiverse ends? Could it be that all of these multiple universes, even from different media companies, are all part of one great multiverse? We have seen competing comic book publishers put out crossover titles before. I have a copy of a Batman and Spider-Man crossover somewhere in my collection. The official word on this book that it took place in a different universe from the main one of each company. Each company might refer to it with their own labeling system for their respective multiverse, but the fact remains that that one universe connects all of them.

You could connect the dots between these multiple universes even further out and connect Doctor Who, The Transformers and Kevin Bacon, but I’m not playing in the “continuity corner” today. My thought is a little broader this time: given that each multiple universe can be infinitely different from the next, and there is an infinite amount of them, then a universe could exist that’s identical to one that we’ve already seen elsewhere. For example, while there’s no clear way for us to connect X-Men with The Golden Girls, there’s no reason to believe that a universe parallel to X-Men is exactly like The Golden Girls. Moreover, there’s no reason to believe that the television sitcom is that parallel universe, given the broad boundaries we’re dealing with.

Despite my desire to see Bea Arthur kick Hugh Jackman’s ass—not that I have anything against Hugh Jackman, but now that the thought’s in my head it won’t go away—where does this lead us? Is every possible universe in pop culture connected in this way? Could it possibly be that every television show, movie, comic book, novel and video game all exist in the mind of Tommy Westphall?

For the sake of storytelling, we need limits. So while the above might be true, we tend to ignore it. Not every universe can detect other ones, or if they can they can’t detect all of them. Even in real life, while we have the concept in mind, we can’t measure another universe parallel to our own. If it’s out there, we don’t know what it’s like.

One more thought: really, what we’re dealing with are concepts in the first place. A parallel universe in a Marvel comic book is a new concept of a particular creator in the first place. We have multiple universes because we want to see variation on characters we already know. But instead of  looking at these stories as taking place in different universes we can just look at them as taking place in the mind of a different person working on the book.

If we were to take the position that the world is only what we perceive it to be, then the idea of different people’s minds being parallel universes makes sense. If we could somehow tap into the mind of somebody else, we could say that we just witnessed a different universe. But I’ll save that thought for another day.

Nerdy Saturday: Why are we so obsessed with living robots?

I recently watched a video on the YouTube channel NerdSync about whether or not the Marvel character The Vision is actually alive and conscious or if he’s merely a robot faking it. I strongly recommend that you check out this and other NerdSync videos as they cover a lot of comic-related issues such as continuity problems, hypotheses (“fan theories”) about popular characters and stories, and, such in the case of the above video, philosophy and how it relates to the world of comics. You don’t have to watch this video to get what I’m saying in this blog post, but it does provide a lot more information on philosophy of the mind and robotics than what I’m covering here—such as duality, physicalism and the Turing Test.

There has been a long running theme of living robots (or androids, or sometimes just pieces of software) in science fiction. Perhaps one of the most famous is Data, the android from Star Trek: The Next Generation and related movies. There was some effort in the early seasons of the show to establish that he is indeed alive and self-aware, culminating in the episode The Measure of a Man. In this popular episode of the series, Data is put on trial to prove that he is alive and deserves the full rights and treatment as any Starfleet officer. The judge ultimately rules in his favor, reasoning that because those who interact with him feel about him as they do anybody else (in other words, eh passes the Turing Test), there’s no more or less proof that he has a “soul” than anybody else. The same theme has been explored throughout the Star Trek franchise, particularly holograms.*

Another prominent franchise that features living robots is The Transformers. Depending on the continuity, the storytellers sometimes go through great lengths to show that the Cybertronians are alive—with explanations ranging from something simple as the narrator saying “they’re alive” to the more complicated story lines of the Beast era. In the latter instance we actually see Transformers’ souls, known as “sparks” in fiction. The spark would inhabit what is known as a “spark crystal” and bring the robot body to life. Beast Machines in particular had a story lines which proved that while as “shell program” could be installed in the robot body dominating the personality, the true personality of the spark could be brought to the surface—demonstrating that in the Transformers multiverse, the soul is the mind, which is a physical presence, creating a sort of hybrid of duality and physicalism.

There are other instances of living robots in science fiction, such as Marvin the Paranoid Android, Kryten from Red Dwarf, possibly the droids from Star Wars and so on.** But why are we so obsessed with the idea of living robots? Why does it matter? In individual cases, there are specific reasons Data defines what it means to be alive. The Transformers are made more relate-able to kids so the toys are easier to sell. But is there a larger reason that we want robots to be alive? perhaps it has nothing to do with the robots themselves. By defining this other, unlikely creature as alive we learn more about what it means to be alive ourselves. Or it could simply have something to do with our speculation of someday creating beings that can think for themselves. There’s much on this to ponder, and I don’t have the time or space to look into it for this blog. But it’s worth thinking about.


*The motif of putting a main character or trial has been repeated in the Star Trek franchise: once, in Voyager, in which the Doctor fights for his rights as an author, citing Data’s case as a precedent; another time was when Jadzia Dax on Deep Space Nine was put on trial for a murder case involving the former host of of the symbient that not only combines mentally with its humanoid host but remembers its past “lives” as well. The latter case doesn’t fit into the larger theme of this blog post, but it is interesting to note that we never resolve the nature of Jadzia Dax’s mind as a the case was dismissed. In the case of the former, the Doctor lost the case, but it is clear that the rest of the crew consider him a fully alive and self-aware member of the crew throughout the series.

**I know I’m leaving out a lot, especially when it comes to literature. But I didn’t have time to research a more thorough list for this blog. I’m sure a quick search on the Internet for “robots in science fiction” would suffice. Besides, while I’m a fan of science fiction in general, and an avid reader, my exposure to actual science fiction literature is rather scant.

Nerdy Saturday: Thoughts on “Star Trek Beyond.”

I decided not to do a flat-out review of Star Trek Beyond for a variety of reasons, but primarily because it’s already been out in theaters for a while now. There are plenty of other places to go for more in-depth reviews of this film. I’m willing to bet that most people who would see it have by this point (as of the time I’m writing this, that its). Still, I suppose it’s customary for me to mention that as I give thoughts to this film I’m going to be giving spoilers.

I felt conscious throughout this film of factors of modern life outside the film affect its story-telling. First and foremost is the controversial moment of when we see Sulu with his male partner (we don’t find out if this is a husband or not, but we assume it’s the other father of Sulu’s daughter), as an homage to George Takai. Putting aside the controversy of including the scene (primarily coming from Takai himself speaking against the decision to make Sulu gay), it feels very much stuck in the movie only to serve as said homage and also to show how progressive the movie studio has come, yet not really necessary to the story.

On the other hand, there are also references to the passing of Leonard Nimoy in the movie, as current-day-alternate-timeline Spock learns of the death of Ambassador Spock, who was played by Nimoy himself in the previous two movies. This not only caused me to well-up in the theater—yes, I’ll admit it—it actually served a purpose to the story. I suppose Sulu’s daughter was a motivation for him to help with the rescue of the mega-space station Yorktown, as if his duty as a Starfleet Officer could somehow be doubted.

But that moment was so quick and inconsequential to the movie that I can let it pass pretty easily. The one contemporary reference that really bothered me was the use of the song “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys as a weapon that destroyed an entire alien fleet of ships. The film had to do a lot of work to explain this, and even then it was just too corny, even for Star Trek. Yes, it was entertaining, energetic and the song did work as a good soundtrack to the destruction of all of those ships. But it was also really stupid.

Another contemporary reference that stood out in the film was that Captain Kirk ends up riding a motorcycle as a tactic to distract the villains at their prison camp/base. This didn’t really bother me so much other than I had to wonder where they got the gas. Even if it there was gas in storage in the abandoned starship the bike came from, would the gas still be usable? I’m not trying to point out a flaw. I really don’t know. If anybody could clarify this for me please tell me.

All of these things serve to prove that no matter how far you set a science fiction piece in the far future it can still feel dated. This used to be the case with production values. I didn’t get that feeling so much with this film in that regard, but it’s going to be a few generations before people forget all of the contemporary references in the film. Then the scene of Sulu on Yorktown is going to really look out of place.

Lest anybody think that I didn’t like the film, bear in mind that the above gripes are about minor points in it. The special effects were stunning. The action sequences were exhilarating. In typical Star Trek fashion, the script was intelligent. I particularly liked the idea of separating the crew and putting them through hardships as a way to show character development. And the acting this time was brilliant. I used to complain that in the previous two movies that it felt like some of the actors were trying to imitate the original series’ actors rather than present their own takes on the characters, especially Karl Urban as Bones. But this time, they look like they’ve eased into the characters a lot more comfortably.

Also, in typical Star Trek fashion, somebody occasionally remembers that Bones is from the South.