Selective Censorship

Cornucopia

Let me set the mood for you.

A man wakes up. He’s in pain. Everything hurts. He can’t see. The room is dark, but his eyes are beginning to adjust. He can’t move like he wants to. His arms are stuck and his legs are fixed in place.

Finally he sees. He sees and he wishes he didn’t.

Bodies.

There are dead bodies all around him naked and posed.

He screams. He tries to get up and run. He can’t because he’s stuck. Literally. His arms are sewn onto his body, his legs are sewn together, and his back is sewn onto the dead body behind him. The screaming doesn’t stop. It’s the one thing he can do.

He has to escape. He has to get away. He’s been left here to die. He’s supposed to be a piece of this dead, macabre tapestry. But he’s alive and he has to get out.

He yanks at his arm and the threads don’t give. The threads don’t, but his skin does… He screams again. He knows what he has to do, but it’s horrific. He can’t, he just can’t…

He can.

He lifts his arm and the threads dig into his skin carefully treated with a resin meant to seal him into this cornucopia of death. His skin splits and tears. Blood runs. The pain is exquisite. A black flap of sticky flesh comes free and so does his arm. He screams.

He pulls at his legs and feels the thick threads sting him. This is easier. The pain has come and abated. He can do it. He flexes and the threads pull and his legs come apart. A sloppy stretch of sinew dangles from the threads and now he feels warm. It’s the blood running down his arm and all over his legs.

One more. He leans forward and catches on the threads linking him to the dead man behind him. His back sings with agony. This is the worst. The threads are sewn into his back muscles. But he’s so close. He has to escape. He can’t become part of the morbid puzzle. He leans and pulls and screams. The threads slice through his skin and eat through his muscle. They catch and he moves and he is free. Blood spills down his back and a slab of oozing flesh is left.

He scrambles over the bodies naked and bathed in darkness. His ass and genitals are obscured, in the dark, out of view. His dead, nude companions are all sewn together and carefully posed to hide their private parts. He finds the door and flees into the night…

This was how the episode of Hannibal opened on March 7th, 2014. It’s easily the most horrific, graphic depiction of gore I’ve ever seen on a TV show. Frankly, only the Saw films rival the raw brutality of that scene. It’s was squirm-inducing TV and I’m no shrinking violet.

But something stood out to me—and no, it wasn’t the long, lingering shots of blood, flesh, and sinew on NBC—the camera went out of its way to avoid seeing the tortured man’s ass. The naked tapestry of bodies surrounding the man were all carefully posed, bathed in shadow, and blurred to hide their private parts.

We just watched the most violent, bloody depiction of gore on network TV since… well, since ever and yet the camera does everything in its power to avoid showing nudity. Now, I wasn’t aching to see the poor guy’s behind or the naked parts of his dead brethren, but it was jarring to see just how hard the camera worked to look anywhere but at a nude body part when only moments before we watched a man rip himself to shreds in graphic detail.

I don’t get it. This country is schizophrenic when it comes to sex and violence in its media. We embrace violence with a disturbing vigor, but shy from the nude human form and expressions of sexuality with indignant rejection.

How could they show that?
Was that a nipple?
Did an ass come into view?
Are they girating??!

Yet…

Go Jack Bauer! Torture that terrorist! Go Hannibal Lecter! Eat that guy’s leg!

A human being’s natural state is naked. We are born naked. Under our clothes we are naked. In our intimate moments shared with a lover we are naked. Every person can be naked, is naked, will be naked, and understands nakedness. It’s not a foreign concept.

Being shot or stabbed is not natural. Those things are violations, penetrative acts. Tearing one’s flesh off is not a natural act. It’s vile and terrible.

NBC depicts the vile and avoids the natural. Which is preferable? Why is it okay to watch a man tear himself apart, but not okay to see his ass? Dare I say that I was more negatively affected by the man’s mutilation than I would have been by his nudity. A hypothetical guess, I realize, but I cannot imagine it would have been worse.

Contrast that with another graphic depiction on another show that’s aired recently. True Detective premiered to critical acclaim on HBO. Its second episode featured a scene between one of the protagonists, Woody Harrelson’s Marty Hart, and his mistress, Alexandra Daddario’s Lisa, where Ms. Daddario got well and truly naked. It’s HBO, so we see all of this. She is a gorgeous woman with an amazing body. I was far from disturbed.

What’s fascinating is that True Detective never depicted violence or gore anywhere close to what Hannibal did in that episode (and many other episodes). HBO can do whatever it wants (a fact which Game of Thrones takes advantage of frequently). In fact, even the gore on that violent, graphic show pales compared to what Hannibal does regularly.

Why is the graphic violence okay to show on network television, but not the sex or nudity? Does that harm us less than nudity would? That can’t be right.

Truly, I don’t know. If I had the answer, I’d tell you. But I’ll tell you what, it’ll be a long time before I forget that shocking, violent sequence of a man tearing his own flesh off to escape a killer who sewed a tapestry of dead bodies together.

Thank God I didn’t see their naked parts. Phew!

I’m going to go watch the Alexandra Daddario scene on a loop to wash my mind out.

I Learned Something Today

President Theodore Roosevelt

I intended this post to be merely a reference to an inspirational quote by Teddy Roosevelt. However, in the process of looking up the full quote and its context, I learned that the part of the quote often attributed to Roosevelt is actually him quoting someone else!

Here’s the full quote:

There are many kinds of success in life worth having. It is exceedingly interesting and attractive to be a successful business man, or railroad man, or farmer, or a successful lawyer or doctor; or a writer, or a President, or a ranchman, or the colonel of a fighting regiment, or to kill grizzly bears and lions. But for unflagging interest and enjoyment, a household of children, if things go reasonably well, certainly makes all other forms of success and achievement lose their importance by comparison. It may be true that he travels farthest who travels alone; but the goal thus reached is not worth reaching. And as for a life deliberately devoted to pleasure as an end — why, the greatest happiness is the happiness that comes as a by-product of striving to do what must be done, even though sorrow is met in the doing. There is a bit of homely philosophy, quoted by Squire Bill Widener, of Widener’s Valley, Virginia, which sums up one’s duty in life: “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”

Catch that last part? Roosevelt was quoting Bill Widener. Who’s that? It’s not clear. Looks like Mr. Widener was just some guy that Roosevelt knew.

Like I said before, I start writing these posts with one thing in mind and other notions intrude. Maybe that’s why Titan is so long?

Nah, it’s just packed with story.

Influences

Avengers' Height Chart

I’ve explored inspiration for particular stories, characters, and situations. Titan was inspired by a nugget of an idea born from the character/technology of “T-1000” from Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It expanded from there. But that’s an idea.

There is a broader effect that acts on us as we create.

Influences.

Everything we have experienced throughout our lives is rattling around in our brains. It makes us cautious when we sense familiar danger. We perk up when we smell a favored food no matter who’s making it. And we enjoy new stories similar to tales we enjoyed long ago.

If it isn’t immediately evident, I am influenced by the superhero myth. I have my favorites (*ahem* Batman *ahem*). But I’m strongly influenced by the notion of the superhero, which is that one person receives great power and uses it to combat evil. I always use Spider-Man as the best example of this.

Meek, kind, and intelligent Peter Parker is bullied, maligned, and ignored — a boy without power. His good-hearted, responsible Uncle Ben raised Peter and treated him like his own son. Ben instilled in Peter the principle that power is a responsibility. When Peter is bitten by the spider, which gives him super abilities the power goes to his head. Uncle Ben is killed as a result of Peter’s inaction. From that day forward, Peter Parker uses his power to help people who have none and confront individuals that abuse theirs.

In the real world, I think we’re used to people actively seeking power for their own selfish purposes. They keep it despite the costs personally and at large. Furthermore, we’re accustomed to people of privilege having power or individuals with physical prowess be it attractiveness, athletic, ability, or both. It’s a rare thing when you find someone who has power and it’s used selflessly or, even rarer, freely gives it up.

I think often about the first American President George Washington with regards to power. He knew why we fought the War of Independence and knew the King’s arbitrary rule well. When Washington’s second term was over, he did not seek reelection. Washington could have been reelected until he died, but he was making a point—this new republic could only work if individuals elected to power freely gave it up when their time was over. Think about the politicians we have now. I can’t see very many of them giving up their power.

I am drawn to superheroes because they use power selflessly (for the most part). They’re also pretty cool. But it’s the use of power that influences me. I’m comparatively short and not especially physical, so the idea of the powerless gaining power is attractive.

Most superheroes are tall, broad chested, and heavily muscled or, in the case of women tall, long-legged, large breasted, and thin. In Titan, the hero is 5’5. I’m not looking to deconstruct the superhero myth, but I wanted to expand it to include people who don’t fit the type.

And, of course, my own physical dimensions bias me. I know how my height is a punch line. I know that I am overlooked (…pun) and underestimated purely because of it. Spider-Man is considered a short superhero, but he’s still 5’10. And yes, I know that Wolverine is short (he’s 5’3 – Titan is taller!), but Hugh Jackman, who portrays him in movies (see X-Men: Days of Future’s Past this summer!), is 6’2 so I’m going to go ahead and not count him.

On another track, I am also disillusioned by “regular” people getting superpowers and being expert with them five minutes later. I like big superhero fights and romance and all that, too, but I think it means more when it’s earned. I prefer what I call the Breaking Bad method of story telling. Walter White became a drug kingpin over the course of 5 seasons; it didn’t happen over night or through a fun, quick montage set to “You’re the Best Around.” We watched every painstaking detail and decision, which led him along the way. That’s called “story,” and if it’s done right it’s better than a superhero fight any day…

…well, most fights. The end battle in The Avengers was pretty amazing.

Although, Robert Downey Jr. calling out the guy playing Galaga was pretty good, too.

Tribulations of a New Author

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I’ve been writing since I was 8 years old. My original stories were detective stories. If I remember correctly, I had a robot partner; he got destroyed in every story…

But I have always loved writing. It came easy. I can write. I know how. I get better everyday.

I do not know how to run a business.

When I published TITAN last year I could figure that out. I used Amazon’s intuitive services to publish in both hard copy and electronic Kindle version. It was nerve-wracking to put my work out there for all to see where I couldn’t tweak or fix anymore. But that’s what it’s all about.

Yet, as I work to grow awareness of my book and get it in more people’s hands, I have to double my efforts and step out of my comfort zone. I am attending Awesome Con DC this year (April 18-20 at the Washington Convention Center). I love my book and talking to people about it, but I am anxious about hocking my wares. I’m a writer, not a salesman. But if I want to write full-time and get my stories to a wider audience I need to learn.

A great example of this is very practical. I will have books with me at the convention. I’m also developing some new creative materials to market TITAN as a book and a brand. I’ll have cash with me at the convention for change, but if I want to increase sales I need a credit card option. PayPal offers a credit card reader called “PayPal Here” that plugs into iOS and Android devices. PayPal takes 2.7% per transaction, so it’s a pretty good option.

Anyway, to sign up you need to fill out your business address. Well, I don’t think of myself as a business, but it’s required. But PayPal tells you this address will be put on your receipts. I like you people, but I don’t need to share that much with you. So, I needed to get a P.O. box. But we’re moving in a couple of months so we needed to search Post Office locations near my wife’s school since that’s a fixed point. We paid, we filled out a form, and brought our IDs to get the P.O. box. Now I can sign up for the PayPal service I need.

It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it just goes to show how I’m learning the ropes as I go. And sometimes things aren’t as simple as they seem. I’m definitely learning some life lessons.

Can’t I just go back to writing?