Friday, May 27, 2016


I'm stuck in monotony. So much so that I have newfound appreciation for that one line of the Nine Inch Nails song Non-Entity: "maze of monochrome." It's a special kind of hell to be hurt by the mediocrity of everyday life, but I think that's the way it is for a lot of people. Maybe that's something to be thankful for--I don't know. The dreaded "could be worse" also keeps circling through my head.

But for whatever reason, after a particularly bad day--no. Not even. Bad moment. Bad two minutes, five minutes tops.

After a particularly bad day, I went all braindead for most of the afternoon. I blacked out at some point during mindless 'net browsing and when I came to, I was watching some recent commencement speech delivered by a clever, popular author I still can't figure out if I like or not.

And it got me thinking about something.

I know a lot of people dislike or at least are apathetic about The Dark Knight Rises. It's pretty divisive amongst fans. Which is redundant to say when it comes to superhero movies as of late. Everything's divisive. Even the stuff everyone likes, it manages to become divisive eventually. I've started to realize in recent decades that comic book movies have become, like, the defining component of my generation's pop culture. We will remember Marvel vs. DC, the controversy of Man of Steel, the remakes and neverending sequels of Fantastic Four and Spiderman and X-Men made by studios trying desperately to retain the rights to the material.

. . . oh my god, this is why all my books break the 100k word mark.

Okay, okay. Tangent. Back on track: so a shitton of people don't really like The Dark Knight Rises. And I know you can't judge the merit of a piece of art based on its message. If you wrote a story where characters stopped every ten seconds to say, "hey, racism sucks," then, well, you technically have a good message, sure, but what are you doing with it? Why should we care? What are you saying that others haven't said already?

I tend to appreciate stories for the messages they're trying to impart, while also remembering to be critical of their writing separate of whether or not I agree with "The Point" that's being made. But for whatever reason, I find it difficult to separate The Message of The Dark Knight Rises from the plot, character, structure, cinematography, music, etc. All that sticks out is that theme and all that remains with me is the scene that defines the movie and it becomes the reason I have never disliked it.

It comes down to the bit where the blind man in the prison says words that ensures Bruce Wayne succeeds in attaining freedom.

Prisoner: You do not fear death. You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak.
Bruce: Why?
Prisoner: How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death?
Bruce: I do fear death. I fear dying in here, while my city burns, and there's no one there to save it.
Prisoner: Then make the climb.
Bruce: How?
Prisoner: As the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again.

So there it was. A conclusion I'd probably come to from other movies and books. From things other people had said and other stories I'd heard. I knew it--fear is necessary, to endure, to grow, to move. But it'd never hit me quite as much as it did when I saw The Dark Knight Rises. And I can't say why, it just did.

I bring it up because, in the years following watching that film, I have abhorded hearing that same lesson in other stories. The day I realized I was doing automatic eye-rolls to it was the day I encountered, "fear doesn't shut you down; it wakes you up," in Divergent.  Automatic eyeroll. One day I remembered that line from Green Lantern, "you have the ability to overcome great fear," and it sounded vapid. I want to gag every time someone tries to redefine fearlessness and bravery and all the comparing/contrasting. Every time someone (in an essay, book, movie, game, whatever) talks about overcoming fear, or embracing fear, it annoys me. The one exception is that moment in The Dark Knight Rises and this line from A Game of Thrones:

Bran: Can a man still be brave if he's afraid?
Ned Stark: That is the only time a man can be brave.

That's the exact same thing as "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it." But hearing the latter quoted on Twitter, and seeing the former on Goodreads causes entirely different reactions. I don't give a shit about the latter. It doesn't inspire anything. The former rings true and stays with me and makes me think. Context or no context, one feels truer than the other, even though they're literally the same thing.

I don't know why. Word composition?

I realized that among the many things I hate, commencement speeches rank pretty high up there. Top twenty, I say. It's in the top twenty things I hate. I had music blasting in my ear throughout my entire university graduation. Same with my brother's high school graduation. In the past, when I'd felt sad and needed Instant Inspiration, Just Add Water, I looked up famous commencement speeches by famous articulate people and I listened to them all. And I always came to one conclusion. They all sound like bullshit. Even those made by people I admire. Even those with clever phrasing. They are all equally bullshit.

And I mean that. The ones that point out the cliches of inspirational speeches or that acknowledge how inherently hollow and forgettable all commencement speeches of the past are--those are just as bad as the ones filled with Believe in Yourself and Embrace Failure and Fear and whateverthefuckelse. They are all bullshit. Those commencement speeches will never be anything except bullshit, no matter how witty or ironic or brutally honest the speaker is.

We use the same words to reach the same conclusions. And we need to do it because humanity as a whole (me included) has short term memory loss.

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"Science and science fiction have done a kind of dance over the last century... The scientists make a finding. It inspires science fiction writers to write about it, and a host of young people read the science fiction and are excited, and inspired to become scientists...which they do, which then feeds again into another generation of science fiction and science..."
- Carl Sagan, in his message to future explorers of Mars.