The Divided States of America
I'm rather overdue in mentioning this. I've gotten sidetracked by things in my personal life, some nice and some positively hellish. Anyway, this guy some months ago added me on Facebook for something clever I wrote on a Salt Lake Tribune article. I don't remember what; I write so many clever things on Salt Lake Tribune articles. And I'm cool with friending people I've never met as long as they're not obviously fake profiles inviting me to look at nudes on another site, which this guy wasn't. And he laughed at my funny posts and praised me for being a genius and it seemed we would coexist in harmony despite him turning out to be a Trump supporter and me being obviously not one.
But it was not to last.
One day he shared a post from a conservative page listing several infringements on the civil rights of Muslims by the government of Japan:
It was just the list with no commentary, but seeing as this was a conservative page, the intention was pretty obvious. The last time a conservative page said something positive about Muslims was, well, never. And if it hadn't been obvious, the comments on the page itself and on my friend's share of the post would have made it so. They more or less unanimously felt that Japan was doing a good job that the United States would do well to emulate. Now of course, being that this was a conservative page, I suspected that most or all of the post was bullcrap, and I was right. Japan does not treat Muslims the way American conservatives think it treats Muslims. I have to wonder what it is in the psychology of so many American conservatives that compels them to swallow and repeat easily debunked lies over and over and over and over and over and over again. Here's a hint: when the makers of these memes don't cite a source it's usually because the source is one of their own orifices.
But unfortunately, the falsity of these claims doesn't change the issue that American conservatives want their government to persecute an unpopular religious minority. That's one of the reasons they elected Trump instead of jeering him out of the 2016 presidential race after he called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States". I jumped in on my friend's post and rhetorically asked if the Founding Fathers made a mistake when they didn't exclude Islam from the First Amendment. I said something about the hypocrisy of people claiming to revere the Constitution while supporting abuses of government power and civil rights like this. I said I love my Muslim friends and would stick up for their rights against any asshole (and I shouldn't have said "asshole", but I'm only human) who tried to take them away. I thought it was a compelling argument, but this guy proved me wrong and preserved the sanctity of his echo chamber by unfriending me. Ah well. It's nice when the trash takes itself out. You know what really makes me sick though? He was a member of my church.
Right-wing hatred of Muslims is not rare. It is not a loud minority. On my more cynical days, I would go so far as to call it one of the chief defining traits of conservatism. It's possibly the single biggest factor in my decision to distance myself from that ideology, and has prompted me to unlike dozens of its pages over the years, up to and including this past week, though admittedly there were a few that I unliked for science denial first. Islamophobia is a cancer, though that's an imperfect metaphor because real cancer doesn't know better. And it's a cancer that more than a few right-wing American members of my church have chosen to infect themselves with, and yes, I hold them to a higher standard and get even more disgusted at their hypocrisy. I don't consider myself a judgmental person for the most part. If you get involved in drugs, prostitution, gambling, armed robbery, or listening to Nickelback, I will with you the best. If, however, you are directly responsible for perpetuating prejudice against the most hated demographic in America, I'll tell you to your face that if heaven is full of people like you, I would rather go to hell.
All other forms of right-wing prejudice take a backseat to that one, but there is an astounding lack of empathy at play. Migrant children being separated from their families and abused by the government? Their parents shouldn't have broken the law. White police officers scream and swear and threaten to murder a pregnant black woman in front of her child? She shouldn't have stolen underwear if she wanted them to be nice to her. High school students removed from the football team for posting a video of a burning rainbow flag and saying "all gays die"? That's a violation of their free speech, and also they wouldn't have gotten in trouble if it had been an American flag, and also why isn't there a Straight Pride Month? God forbid we have a shred of compassion for anyone who doesn't worship, speak, look, or love exactly like us. That's not the American way. Also, addiction is a choice and addicts deserve to have their lives ruined.
Look, this crap just depresses me, all the more so because I don't see it getting better anytime soon. Lord help us all.
The End of Star Wars for Now
The day before my birthday, I completed the Utah Theatre's run of the original Star Wars trilogy. It opened with a Peter, Paul and Mary concert, where Peter or Paul somewhat testily explained that the lyrics of "Puff, the Magic Dragon" are about nothing more or less than the death of childhood. Then we watched the same Tweety Bird cartoon as last week, and then another one, and then another one. I recognized that the theater was using one of the Golden Collection DVDs from my childhood. And then finally they stopped teasing us and showed "Return of the Jedi".
The first section of the movie, set in Jabba's palace, is pretty dark. I mean that both thematically and literally in terms of the Blu-Ray remastering. Even on the big screen it's much more difficult to make out several of the background characters than in previous versions. I don't mind admitting that it makes the whole atmosphere creepier even before we get to EV-9D9 torturing the poor Gonk droid that for some unconscionable reason has pain sensors in its feet. And I don't mind admitting that the rancor, on the big screen with its horrifically bad bluescreen effect fixed, is terrifying. If I'd been one of those five year old kids in the audience I probably would have crapped my pants. It's incredibly realistic for a puppet, and its slow, unearthly, (almost) unstoppable lumbering gait as it fixates on its prey with primitive single-minded devotion is unsettling, and the way it snarls after Luke hurts its finger and you know it's absolutely pissed, well, that gives me shivers. Poor, poor Oola. Poor, poor Gamorrean guard.
But that's nothing compared to the Sarlacc. Really, nothing else in Star Wars compares to the Sarlacc, which as you may recall is said to digest its prey alive over a thousand years. It's so out of proportion to any of the other terrible fates that people can meet with in the galaxy, and it's so out of proportion to anything its victims shown in the movie possibly could have deserved. Just because they weren't bright enough to amount to much of anything more than hired muscle for a thug like Jabba, they're condemned to a purgatory that not even Jabba deserves. Probably. You know what? I refuse to accept that. I don't care that it's canon. It's morally wrong and besides that, it's biologically absurd. The canon explanation is that the Sarlacc injects nutrients into its prey (along with neurotoxins to make the process even more excruciating because reasons) to keep them alive while it digests them. Think about that for a second. It injects nutrients into its own prey for a thousand years. And somehow comes out ahead and doesn't starve to death. Yeah, no, I may have given up my Wildlife Science major but I know enough to know that's bantha poodoo. I'd even rather accept this version as canon:
Really, even without that, the Star Wars galaxy is a craptastic place to live. Not just the constant cycle of war with no chance in hell of ever ending; Earth already has that. No, what really makes it craptastic is that its (canonically more or less accurate) theology offers no hope of a better future either. When people die, their souls don't go on to paradise and they don't get resurrected. The "become one with the Force", which entails losing their individual consciousness altogether, unless they're one of a very few Force-sensitives who discover the secret to retaining their identities as Force ghosts. There is no eternal justice. The villains who wreak havoc on the galaxy will never be punished for their crimes. Every life they ruin or snuff out is a victory for evil that will never be reversed. Worse still, the heroes who sacrifice their lives for the cause, whether by working tirelessly or actually dying, will never be rewarded. Every single Rebel soldier and pilot in "Rogue One" who willingly gave up his or her life so that someone else would have a sliver of a chance to save the galaxy... simply ceased to exist. Yeah, as I get older, I overthink entertainment.
To say nothing of that Ewok, that one Ewok who dies! He gets me every time. It's not the way the music takes on a mournful tone after he's shot. It's not the way he lays on the ground softly moaning. It's not the way his friend shakes him and tries to wake him up. It's all of those things. I cry every time.
And then I cry again when Luke cries out to his father for mercy, his father saves him at the cost of his own life and dies moments after looking at his son with his real eyes for the first and last time. And then I cry again as celebrations rage across Endor and across the galaxy - and with all due respect to the cuteness of "Yub Nub", the Special Edition replacement song kicks its pants off. It's beautiful and epic and the contrast of its slow, idyllic pacing with the energy of the Ewoks and Rebels dancing just works in a way I can't describe. I don't cry much at all, but this is one of the more emotional movies I've ever seen, as it taps into the most basic story of good versus evil within all of us, of our potential for change and redemption (though a deathbed repentance for murdering toddlers is maybe taking it a bit far), and of the certainty that heroes will eventually prevail against impossible odds until J.J. Abrams resets the storyline and basically erases everything they accomplished. For as much as purists consider it inferior to the first two installments of the original trilogy, as far as I'm concerned, this is Star Wars at its best.
Also, on the big screen I noticed for the first time women in the background aboard the Rebel flagship. The Rebels had women in their ranks besides Mon Mothma and Princess Leia after all. Fun fact: there were a few female pilots in the final battle too, but most of them didn't make the final cut, and if you watch their footage it's not hard to see why. I don't think they were even professional actresses. I suspect they were married to some of the guys working on the movie, whom they wore out by constantly asking "When am I gonna be in Star Wars? You promised me a spot in Star Wars." The remaining female pilot had her lines and death scream dubbed over by a man, I guess because audiences in 1983 just weren't progressive enough to watch a woman explode. I wouldn't even complain if Disney changed "him" back.
Summerfest in Logan, Utah is a beautiful time of year when dozens of talented artists converge on the grounds of the old Latter-day Saint Tabernacle to display their beautiful and expensive artworks. Any one of their booths would be jaw-dropping on its own, but clustered together like this in a sea of beauty, only a few have any hope of standing out as special. I just like to go wander around and soak up the vibe as I look at things and pretend there's the slightest chance I might consider buying something. Kind of like my recent brief stint on the Mutual app in that regard. Also there's overpriced food and live, mostly local musicians.
On Thursday I go around to get an overview of the situation, not looking too closely because there will be time for that later, and I run into Jake from the stake and end up having a bonfire at his apartment. It's about 1/20th the size of a bonfire back home because I assume city ordinances and whatnot, but there's a great camaraderie from those assembled and I witness the birth of several inside jokes. From here on out I will be a part of these inside jokes and able to feel like I have friends. Blake from the stake lives there too, and he asks if I've been on any hot dates lately because he thinks that's an appropriate question for some reason. In fact, I haven't been on any since the last time he asked, which I think was in February. But I humor him by telling everyone present who my crush is. I trust them. They'd better not make me regret that.
The next day, I allow myself to partake a little more in the experience by getting some of the overpriced food, because after all this only happens once a year. I stuff myself on chicken legs, watermelon, chips, and a drink called the "Texas Twister" in a plastic boot. Every time someone orders or refills a plastic boot, the lady in charge yells "We've got a boot!" and all the workers have to yell "Yee-haw!" I imagine how much they must hate their job, but then I remember with a chill my time in the call center, and I realize that even if, instead of yelling "Yee-haw!" they had to wear chicken costumes and sing "What is Love" while twerking, their job would still be preferable to working a call center. They should just be grateful they can find work in this economy at all.
As seven p.m. (19:00) approaches, I walk thirty seconds over to the Utah Theatre to continue the original Star Wars trilogy. This week is "The Empire Strikes Back", the one I tried to get my coworker to come see with me, but her absence will do little to deter me from enjoying this near-flawless blend of action, drama, suspense, humor, introspection, and romance, with an incredible score that goes silent in all the right places and the greatest plot twist in cinematic history. Before the movie I watch a bit of a John Denver concert and a Warner Brothers cartoon, "Bad Ol' Puddy Tat", that ruins my hypothesis about Disney cartoons being matched with Disney movies. But hey, I'd much rather watch Tweety beat the crap out of Sylvester in self-defense than a couple of wicked rodents beat the crap out of Donald Duck to steal the food he made for himself. On top of that, it doesn't have a single racist moment. So the experience was a solid improvement over last week.
My coworker, for the second time, asked if I was going to the hike that her ward is doing at seven a.m. (7:00), so I once again set my alarm for 6:20. I hate hate hate getting up early, but my call center job started at seven too, so this is just like that except it's something fun instead of pure hell. And my alarm is "Hyrule Field" from the Ocarina of Time soundtrack. There are worse noises to wake up to. But oh, wouldn't you know it, my brain has decided that when I said "6:20" I actually meant "5:30", and it's not taking no for an answer. At least I'm not up before the sun this time. Still, I'm not yet convinced that the tradeoff of these hikes is worth it. They're happening every two weeks. I think two Fridays from now I'll make sure to hide from my coworker and pretend I forgot.
My old friend Christian says he'll be in town today to run some errands, so I tell him I'll be at Summerfest and he can meet me there and I can give him the bit of money I've been unable to pay him back because he's been in Europe for half a year and I can't use Venmo or PayPal because reasons. While I'm wandering around waiting for him, I run into my old classmate Stormy, whose face lights up. Stormy was in two of my classes, and she was the second best writer in my Advanced Non-Fiction Writing class (I suggested she might be the first, but she said "No, you definitely are" and I'm not going to argue the point), and after every class I asked to walk with her and she usually said yes, and I watched a play she was in and I interviewed her about her faith for an assignment. When I went incognito to my own graduation, she hugged me and told me it meant a lot that I had come out to see her, but of course I was probably there to see other people too but it still meant a lot.
So on this occasion, she's there with some friends and I run into her and she asks if I'm there alone, I say yes, and she's like, "That's great that you can just go to things by yourself and be cool with it. I love that about you. I couldn't do that. I'd be awkward." I'm startled to see her back in town for the weekend after I thought she'd left forever, he's got a temporary (I hope) tattoo on her neck and it's very distracting, but I catch enough to marvel at her implication that I'm not awkward. Still, she has a point. I learned some time ago when I went to see "The Lego Movie" by myself after several failures to find a viewing buddy that the need to not be alone when doing things is more an assumption we tell ourselves than a reality. When "The Lego Movie 2" was out, I didn't even try. I just went. And I go to Summerfest alone every year, but Logan is a small town and this is a relatively large event and I'm guaranteed to see people I know anyway. Stormy has to go follow her friends but then I meet up with Christian and pay him back and make myself right before the Lord.
Then I'm minding my own business when Blake is suddenly there asking if the big sack of Kettle Corn I bought is for him. It isn't, but I give him a little bit because I can be surprisingly generous to people who are just honest about what they want. He tries to trade his empty Texas Twister boot for the rest of my Kettle Corn, but I explain that I already have one and his friends laugh at him. I recognize some of them from the fire or the stake, and others are entirely new to me. Terrah is one of the new ones, but before I so much as know her name I'm already making jokes about her diminutive stature. Regan is the only one to hear me the first time, and she tells me how funny I am, but Stephen hears me the next time and makes sure to repeat it louder for everyone's benefit. Terrah pretends to be hurt, and truly I shouldn't have started doing this without verifying whether she'd be okay with it, and I'm kind of a dirtbag, but I just feel like we're already a big family and this is how I bond with people I care about. I'm glad she takes it in the spirit it's intended and doesn't get mad at me. I'm glad she doesn't have a short temper.
We go to Angie's, a local restaurant where I went on the first date that I ever went on, where I learned that there was nothing to be nervous about, before I learned that there was in fact very very much to be nervous about. The next year I went there on another date that amounted to much the same. But none of the bad memories are directly connected to the restaurant itself, which is good because I see its name on bumper stickers literally all the time. We go over to a section I've never been in with room for all of us. But some of the people from earlier are nowhere to be found, and as I note our seating arrangement - boy-girl-boy-girl-boy-girl-me - it dawns on me that I seem to have crashed some kind of group date. Oh well, there are worse things than being a seventh wheel. I'll just roll with it. And look, I won't even have to be the only one because here come the others finally, let's see, two more boys and two more girls. Well. There are worse things than being an eleventh year. I wonder what the record is. Let's go for the record. The newcomers sit boy-girl-girl-boy-me and Stephen says the gender ratio here is a coincidence, but a good ratio nonetheless.
I distinctly remember that my first time here I had ravioli, but now I'm looking through the menu and there's no ravioli nor pasta of any kind. Lots of chicken, though. I don't want anything with chicken. I had enough chicken yesterday to last a week. I don't want breakfast food either because I already got pancakes today after the hike. Reluctantly I settle for a cheeseburger. While we wait, my tablemates act like children and Sierra persuades me to take part in a game of Russian Roulette, but with packets of sugar and salt. I know how stupid it is for me to participate in this game but I want these people to like me. The mouthful of salt is worth that. Terrah asks me what I do for fun, and says that after twenty years she's just discovered books, and asks me for recommendations which I happily supply because this is my chance to inculcate her with my views of the world. I try to gauge her potential interest in "The Adventures of Tintin" by asking if she's into comics as well. She says she's occasionally read one "about a cat thing and a human thing." I'm the only one at the table who correctly guesses that she's talking about Calvin and Hobbes.
Most of us go back to Blake's place to chill, and it's already about eleven p.m. (23:00) and I've already been up too long and I know that tomorrow I'm really really going to regret staying up as late as it looks like we're going to be up, but screw it, I'm making friends. We talk and listen to music and play a card game. Somehow the topic of conversation periodically returns to my crush even though most of these people weren't at the fire. For example, Colby asks why I chose her to be my crush. I say her intellect, her maturity, her spirituality, her kindness, and she has a nice face, and she has the cutest smile, especially when she shows her teeth; she has nice teeth. They can't argue with that logic. Terrah wants to know where I would take her on a date if money and other logistical concerns were no object. I say the moon because I'm thinking in terms of what today's technology allows. With the benefit of hindsight, though, I'd like to change my answer to Saturn's moon Titan, where the thick atmosphere and low gravity would literally enable us to strap on plastic wings and fly through the air. I'm not kidding. Wikipedia says so and everything.
Also, we laugh. A lot. And not to brag or anything, but at a conservative estimate I'd say ~70% of the laughter is attributable to my dance moves and witty comments. Admittedly the bar for what consitutes a witty comment falls lower as the night wore on. Soon all I have to do is reference something we nearly peed ourselves laughing about ten minutes ago, and we'll nearly pee ourselves laughing all over again. I'm not the type to laugh out loud on my own but when other people do, even if the joke was mine to begin with, it's contagious. It's cleansing. This is great. I'm becoming so popular. I knew I was capable of being funny, but this must be the crowning moment of glory of my entire life. "The party never dies, with Chris," Terrah says. And yet, I wonder as I go to bed at almost two a.m. (2:00), at what cost? Will they invite me back every weekend, only to consistently deprive me of the ability to form a coherent thought or write an engaging blog post the following day? As with the hikes, I wonder if the tradeoff is worth it.
I wonder something else too. How is it that tonight/this morning I had seven to nine people (it fluctuated) rolling on the floor laughing for two and a half hours, yet all I can elicit from my crush is an occasional smile or giggle? Perhaps the one truly laughing at me is God.
The Utah Theatre here in Logan regularly shows old movies, but barely registered as a blip in my consciousness until its movie posters for the original Star Wars trilogy recently stopped me in my tracks. First of all, Star Wars. Second, I had just been talking with a coworker about how if she only ever saw one more Star Wars movie in addition to the one she's seen, she should see "The Empire Strikes Back" because it's widely regarded as the best one (an opinion I share, though "Rogue One" makes me reconsider just a little before ultimately coming in second due to its lack of character development). So on Monday I invited her to go to that with me, reasoning that whether she said yes or no I could stop being nervous as soon as I asked. Because of scheduling difficulties I didn't get a definitive answer until today. I actually find that kind of comical. Regardless, I had every intention from the beginning of seeing all three of these movies in the theater with or without her. After this run-through, "Attack of the Clones" will be the only theatrical Star Wars movie I haven't seen in a theater. Oh, and "The Clone Wars", which I forgot about like everyone else.
So on Friday I went to "A New Hope" and my friend Scott went too and we could have tried to get in together with the "Date Night" package which includes two tickets and popcorn and candy for $14, and in my opinion is a bargain well worth lying about my sexuality for, but I was nervous that there would be a huge crowd and the tickets would sell out so I showed up forty minutes early. The theater was empty. So I picked out the best seats in the place and watched the Neil Diamond concert that was playing for some reason. I think it was a DVD, and periodically somebody skipped around through the scenes so that we only had to watch/hear his big radio hits. Scott showed up and we watched the rest of the concert and then, when it was time for the movie to start, the theater surprisingly didn't make us watch forty commercials and movie trailers. We only had to watch the original theatrical trailers for the next two Star Wars movies and re-release trailers for "Gone With the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz". The Utah Theatre's next offerings, I presume.
Then Donald Duck's face appeared on the screen, I presume because Star Wars, for better and for much worse, is owned by Disney. And I thought it was the coolest thing to bring back that tradition of pre-movie cartoons. But I hated this one, which shall remain nameless because it doesn't deserve publicity. First of all, it ends with a non sequitir "joke" where the characters look like racist Chinese stereotypes. I certainly hope I wasn't the only person in the audience bothered by that. I was bothered by it at face value and even more so when I thought of how mortified I would be if I'd brought somebody Asian, or for that matter any non-white person (like, oh I don't know, my coworker) to see it. There's also quite a feeling of cognitive dissonance when you see beloved cartoon icons being offensive in ways they would never dream of today. It shatters their illusion of being timeless, ageless, larger-than-life figures unrestrained by the shortcomings and shortsightedness of mortality. The "old" Bugs Bunny who once wore blackface is the same character as the "current" Bugs Bunny who would never ever ever do anything like that. Yeesh.
And admittedly, I first made the uncharitable assumption that the people responsible for selecting this cartoon just didn't see anything wrong with it because they were all white and didn't have any Asian friends. Sadly, that didn't seem too far-fetched as I've heard and read more than a few complaints from minorities in Utah about the microaggressions they're subjected to by stupid white people. But I complained to the theater and they said they had missed the racist part because it's right at the end and they'll discuss how to improve their cartoon screening process and not let it happen again. So I forgive them as long as it never happens again. And that was the extent of my complaint because I realize the theater isn't responsible to cater to my personal tastes or accomodate my broken psyche, but here in my safe space I'll let y'all in on a little secret: even before the racist ending, I hated this cartoon. I mean really hated it.
It opens on a cheerful Donald Duck singing as he makes himself a whopping stack of pancakes which he intends to have for breakfast. Little does he know that Chip and Dale live on his roof. They decide they want the pancakes for themselves, and in the process of stealing every single one - amounting to several times their own combined body weight and mass - they subject him to a great deal of abuse and humiliation as he tries to stop them. Eventually, they win and he loses and I'm left feeling physically ill even without the racism factor. Scott confided, "Honestly, I was rooting for Donald Duck. I should have known better." Me too, brother. I held out hope that the furry little turds from hell would get their comeuppance at the end and Donald Duck would be compensated for his tribulation. But nope. They just abuse and humiliate him to the very end and steal all his food and we're supposed to root for them and find it funny because they're cute? I guess? I know people in the forties were idiots, but were they really that depraved that they found this storyline appealing?
Maybe on some level I'm afraid that no matter what I do or how well I try to live, someone more likeable is going to abuse and humiliate and screw me for no reason, and the universe or whoever's out there watching has already decreed that I deserve to be laughed at, not sympathized with, for no reason. Am I a Donald Duck in the story of my own life? If so, the prospect of being alive is a nightmare devoid of hope. But mostly I just feel bad for the cartoon character. Duh, he's not real, but that doesn't magically make it funny to watch him subjected to suffering he's done nothing to deserve. (In this cartoon, anyway. In some cartoons he's a jerk to somebody and then gets his comeuppance and that's fine, but those have no relevance to this instance because these old cartoons cared as much about continuity as Trump does about climate science.) Now I would pay good money to watch an R-rated sequel where Donald Duck gets his thorough and final revenge on Satan's sentient armpit hair. That would make the trauma I experienced worth it.
Cartoons, of all places, should be a world of unrealistic karma catharsis where, by the end, good or neutral characters are rewarded and bad characters are punished. If a good character just has a bad time with no reversal of fortune at the end, it needs to be something relatable that makes the audience say in their heads, "We may chuckle because we've all been there, bro, but we're still rooting for you to get back on your feet." Not "You deserve to suffer because you're not as cute as a chipmunk." And for the record, though I'm obviously supposed to, I don't find the merciless miniaturized monstrosities cute at all. Cute is as cute does. And for the record, I'm not even wild about cartoons where carnivorous animals are made out to be villains because of the instincts and physiological requirements that God gave them, but at least in those cases I can rationalize that their prey is abusing and humiliating them out of self-defense and not pure sadism. So in summary, the racist ending was just a gratuitous sucker punch to my already sick stomach.
These were not the Ch-Ch-Ch-Chip 'n Dale, Rescue Rangers that I grew up with. I don't care what anybody says. In my personal canon these demonic owl pellets are not the same characters as the noble defenders of truth and righteousness that I looked up, er, down to as a kid, full stop, end of discussion.
As for the movie itself, what can I say? It was freaking Star Wars. Even though I could have gone in blind and deaf and played along in my head beat-for-beat with the actual movie, and even though the CGI additions really haven't aged well and look like PlayStation cutscenes on a screen that large, it was every bit as magical as the last time and the next time. Scott wrote a post about it too and called it "some delightfully stupid movie about intergalactic teenage war heroes." That's as apt a description as I've ever heard for a movie whose plot basically comes down to "These are the good guys and these are the bad guys and they each have a space wizard with a laser sword, and the good guys have to shoot this hole to blow up the giant space egg." It's a very paint-by-numbers approach to the Hero's Journey, but that's exactly why people across eras and cultures love it. If Disney wants the franchise to survive it needs to break more new ground and push more boundaries let go of its incestuous dependence on nostalgia and inside jokes, but without forgetting its roots as some delightfully stupid movie about intergalactic teenage war heroes.
It's also a galaxy where, despite the apparent lack of eternal judgment and ultimate justice, the good guys always win sooner or later instead of getting abused and humiliated for laughs. Just a thought, Disney.
RIP McKenna Denson/June Hughes
I'll start off with some good news that has no relevance to the main topic. Although some high-ranking people in Utah's education system were determined to prevent children from learning accurate science, they've now officially lost. If they had succeeded in putting creationism in schools, they would have been sued like Kansas and then lost, so Utah has been spared some considerable resources and embarrassment here. And since I wrote a letter to the editor of the Salt Lake Tribune about this some time ago, I'll take credit for science's victory. You're welcome.
The main topic is not the most pleasant one to read or write about, but I think it's kind of important. Trigger warning: sexual assault.
Mike Norton is not a friend of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I believe there are very few people on the planet who hates the Church more than he does. As far as its critics go, he's one of the nastiest, most unstable, and most willing to cross ethical boundaries, which is saying something. He likes to purchase temple recommends from equally unethical church members and record the ceremonies and post them on YouTube, except now he has to have helpers do it because the temple workers know who he is. So when McKenna Denson claimed that former MTC president Joseph Bishop attempted to rape her decades ago, and sued the Church for allegedly covering it up and not doing anything about it, Mike Norton was a natural ally. He happily filmed her harassing and embarrassing Bishop, and in return, she showed up to support him when he recently went to court for violating the Church's restraining order. It was a beautiful friendship. How could one not be touched watching them sing "Won't You Be My Neighbor" on the way to Bishop's ward to disrupt fast and testimony meeting?
But it was not to last.
Before this week, I would have regarded the possibility of Mike Norton teaming up with the Church of Jesus Christ against his former ally as only slightly more likely than Donald Trump expressing his admiration for Mexican Muslim women. Yet it turns out that he does have a shred of integrity. When his friend McKenna Denson claimed that three attempts on her life were made earlier this year, he naturally was concerned and wanted to help investigate. But in the course of his investigation he found some disturbing revelations. Now, some of this was already pointed out by the Church's legal team, and they got crucified for it. How dare they investigate the trustworthiness of someone who's suing them for a crapload of money? Don't they know they're obligated to roll over and accept whatever abuse is heaped on them? But Mike Norton found all that and more, and now he's quite literally and deliberately helping the legal team of his most despised religion in the world, because if possible, he now despises McKenna Denson even more. And he's getting applauded for it by most of the same people who crucified said legal team.
To sum up: McKenna Denson, or June Hughes as she used to be known before her criminal record under the latter name got inconveniently big, has a decades-long history of forgery, shoplifting, deliberately injuring herself or her property to file fraudulent lawsuits, extorting money via false rape/assault accusations (sometimes against actual men, and sometimes against imaginary men who are always black because it turns out she's racist too), and soliciting donations by pretending to have cancer. This last bit is what really set Mike Norton off and made him decide she's the worst person he's ever met. In a recorded phone call, he subjected her to a hefty dose of unhinged but not undeserved verbal abuse and told her that the people she scammed will now be less likely to donate to real cancer victims, so she's literally taken money away from children with cancer. Throughout the 14-minute phone call she denied none of his allegations and showed no remorse. She remained calm and implacable as he promised to end her career of lies and put a bullet between her eyes if she ever sets foot on his property again. (Trespassers are the worst, eh Mike?)
And it does look like McKenna Denson is finished. The vast majority of her supporters turned against her overnight. True, most of them are disgusting hypocrites who whined about the Church "persecuting" her when it pointed out her criminal record, but that detracts very little from my schadenfreude at watching her go down in flames. I originally formed no solid opinion on her claim against Joseph Bishop because it wasn't my place to do so, even though a helpful stranger informed me that I was "promoting rape culture" by holding him to the same standard that all accused persons are entitled to in the United States of America. Of course I didn't want it to be true, but it's by no means impossible for a high-ranking church leader to do something so terrible. They're not Jesus. I wrote a blog post over a year ago summarizing the details of the case, but I had to update it every day as more details came out, so I soon gave up and left it unpublished and just hoped the people who actually have authority in these matters would get at the truth. I'll probably publish it in the near future anyway so all that effort doesn't go to waste.
The clear fact now, though, is that McKenna Denson has been lying about being raped, and various other things, since before she even went on her mission. That's actually impressive. And the police know about this. So the fact that she isn't already in prison for life demonstrates that something is very, very wrong with our society. At the very, absolute least, the police should have stopped listening to her long ago. Anytime she goes to them for literally any reason, they should laugh in her face and tell her to take a long walk off a short pier, because for forty years or so she's been one of the least trustworthy people in the human race. She has repeatedly and voluntarily thrown away her right to be believed about anything whatsoever. Sorry not sorry. She never should have been allowed to file this bullcrap lawsuit against the Church, but since her one charge that didn't get dismissed already is moving forward, it looks like she'll be getting additional comeuppance, this time with nobody supporting her, and in fact with her previous most prominent supporter testifying against her on behalf of the Church. We live in strange times.
False rape accusers, which McKenna Denson/June Hughes demonstrably is several times over even if by some small chance she happens to be telling the truth this time, are every bit as wicked in my book as actual rapists. They put their victims through hell and they make it more difficult for real rape victims to be taken seriously. And her other lies and lawsuits took money from innocent people too. And pretending to have cancer is a garbage thing to do even if you don't take people's money, which she did. I don't care about the forgery and shoplifting. Nobody's perfect. If that was the only thing on her criminal record I would disregard it. But all of this taken together is why I would rejoice in her fall from public approval even if she wasn't targeting my religion. The judge will come to his or her own conclusions, but as far as I'm concerned the Church's only error in judgment was letting this monster serve a mission after she had already started her career of lies.
Mike Norton tells her to "rot in hell" even though he doesn't believe in hell. As tempted as I am to concur with that request, I must remind myself that I am not her judge. I am not either of their judge, and with that disclaimer I make this observation. Mike Norton is an amazing illustration of moral complexity. He's done some very crappy things and there's no indication that he intends to stop just because he's in a momentary truce of sorts. Yet this week he demonstrated that he has some ethical boundaries and gives a crap about innocent people, including those affiliated with what he considers his worst enemy. McKenna Denson/June Hughes, on the other hand, appears to give a crap about nothing and nobody but herself. Her lack of reaction to Mike's accusations paints her as totally amoral and unconcerned with the harm she's inflicted on so many people. This may be an indicator of mental illness, or it may just be that her conscience has fallen silent after decades of her willfully ignoring it.
Mike Norton's video where he discusses the police reports on McKenna Denson/June Hughes (with a bit of swearing toward the end):
Mike Norton's earlier phone call with McKenna Denson/June Hughes where he majorly flips out on her (with much swearing throughout):
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.