Mario + Unitarian Universalism
I have little to no interest in seeing most movies in the theater, but I really wanted to see The Super Mario Bros. Movie after waiting a few weeks for it to be less crowded, and not just because its financial success increases the likelihood of a The Legend of Zelda Movie down the line. And it has had a great deal of financial success even without my help. At the very beginning, far-right commentators accused it of being "woke" because Princess Peach is a strong female character and wears pants in one scene - never mind that she's been a playable character in many games and I always play as her in Super Mario 2 because I've found her jumping/hovering ability more useful than Toad's speed, Mario's well-roundedness, or Luigi's talent for running off the edges of platforms and dying - but as soon as it started to break box office records they decided that was because it's actually "anti-woke." I guess they didn't notice the scene where a character dresses in drag. Critics, who are often very out of touch with what normal people enjoy watching, have complained that the movie doesn't break new ground. I actually don't think most children's movies need to have life-altering plot twists. It's just a fun adventure with fun characters and a lot of shameless fanservice. That's all I wanted and all I thought it would be.
Now, yes, let's talk about a The Legend of Zelda movie. It needs to happen. It needs to be a little more mature, a little more complex, a little more critic-pleasing, but still retain some of the goofiness. And Link should't talk. And Zelda should be at least as woke as Peach. And those are my only requirements. So I guess I don't have much to talk about.
I saw The Super Mario Bros. Movie with a friend, and then I invited her to a free dinner put on by the Cache Valley Unitarian Universalists, and they talked about the stuff they do there and she expressed regret that she hasn't been involved with them during the past year when she had so much free time and now she's moving in a couple months. So without even trying, I had more missionary success that night than in all my years as a Mormon. The appeal of Unitarian Universalism is exactly what I didn't like about it when I was a Mormon. It's very secular in nature, doesn't tell people what to believe and doesn't talk about God or the supernatural or the afterlife much at all. This means that even an agnostic like my friend can be comfortable participating. It also means a bigger focus on environmentalism and social justice than many churches have. While many churches do a lot of good in the world, the belief that God will fix everything, in fact the belief that the world has to get worse so God can fix everything, often diverts their priorities elsewhere. I hope this life isn't all we get, but I think there's something to be said for living as if it is. That perspective makes me more eager to assuage others' suffering. It makes me a lot less patient with Republicans fighting against human rights and humanitarian aid in the name of their cruel and petty god.
I'm Kind of Almost a Deist Maybe
For several months of moderate existential crisis I've been trying to really figure out God, even as I recognize that it's futile because billions of people have their own ideas about God and most if not all of them are wrong and I'm not likely the smartest person in the world. I think God is too big and complicated for any mortal being to really understand. Charles Darwin put it thus: "A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can." I no longer believe there is one definitive "true religion," because if there is, God has done a terrible job promoting it and most people throughout history and still today have failed to find it or be attracted to it. I think religions represent people's best attempts to understand, and each of them approaches him from a certain angle and has certain insights and truths but really knows very little in the final analysis. Perhaps multiple seemingly contradictory teachings about God are all true, like the blind men's observations about the elephant, or perhaps they're all laughably wrong. I'm trying to keep an open mind. I try to take in a lot of ideas, but my current thoughts about God, which I hardly claim to be revelatory and hardly expect to be final, are mostly inferred from my own experience and my observations of this world he supposedly created.
(For now I'm going to keep using masculine pronouns for him because that's what I grew up with and what most people are used to, though for all I know he's more of a she, a they, or an it. I'm not going to capitalize them here because the frequency of that would become awkward and distracting.)
I've questioned, of course, whether God even exists or all my experiences with him have been confirmation bias and delusions. After an analysis I described a few months ago, I am fairly confident that confirmation bias and delusions can't account for all of them, and that some higher power has at times communicated things to me I couldn't know on my own, but I also feel that this higher power has recently been less than honest with me and let me down big time, so that's kind of torn my brain apart. I've wondered if God isn't really all good. Maybe he's more of a Chaotic Good or a Chaotic Neutral who isn't above lying when he feels like it. Maybe he's a capricious being who helps, hinders, or ignores people more or less at random. How could I know? If he tells me he's good, if he tells me he loves me, he could be lying. I don't know what's a more disturbing thought - that God doesn't exist, or that he isn't entirely trustworthy. It reminds me of a Legend of Zelda fanfiction I read once where the characters discovered that Hyrule's goddesses were just ordinary women who accidentally became immortal, then studied science and created the world with its eternal cycle of good vs. evil because they were bored. I loved that fanfiction and I wish I could remember what it was called because the site I got it from has hundreds.
This summer I also read The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss by David Bentley Hart, which is available to "borrow" on archive.org. It outlines what looks to me like a pretty airtight philosophical case for God's existence, certainly one light-years beyond the paint-by-numbers anti-theism of people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Of course most of this philosophy isn't original to Hart or even remotely new, but he covers so much so well. I would hate to try to do his arguments justice by paraphrasing them in a few sentences. I'll comment on the title, though - the book is divided into those three parts, being, consciousness, and bliss, because he argues that despite their obvious theological differences, most religions really have the same concept of God as comprising the totality of those things. An Orthodox Christian, he liberally quotes from Hindu and Muslim as well as Christian thinkers. But this is, in fact, a very different concept of God than the one I was taught in the Mormon Church. I was taught that God is an embodied, exalted human being occupying a physical space on a planet somewhere with his silent, invisible wife or wives, not "just" a force that fills the universe. I think Joseph Smith made a point of rejecting all this philosophy to close the distance between people and God, to make him more relatable and accessible. Mormons would conversely argue that these "philosophies of men" led to the obfuscation of these truths and the corruption of the original Christian church. I know philosophy has its limitations, but if it's that useless, I don't know why God gave us brains in the first place.
The world doesn't look to me like the product of a divine plan where every detail is worked out with perfect foreknowledge. It looks more like the result of a science experiment with no ethical constraints. It looks more like God just set it in motion to see what it would come up with. Everything is just too complicated to fit into the little box my religion gave me to put everything in. If we humans are the purpose for which God created this planet, then I'm hard-pressed to understand why dinosaurs were here for 550 times as long as we've been, why more than two-thirds of its surface is covered with water that will kill us if we drink it, or why its sun's life-giving rays cause cancer, to name just the first three examples that pop into my head. I find it very difficult to believe that every living organism has a spirit designed by God before the world was formed. There are more microorganisms living on and inside my body than there are cells in my body. If God planned each of them individually, it makes more sense to believe that they're at the center of his plan and I'm just here to host them. The final straw for me was the incredibly hideous Demodex mites that live on humans' (and other mammals') faces and fill up with feces until they explode. I'll be nice and not include a picture that nobody asked for. I find it very, very, very difficult to believe that these creatures' existence was a conscious, premeditated detail of God's plan. I think he just didn't bother to stop them from evolving.
I'm increasingly inclined to attribute most of the circumstances of my life and others' lives to luck, good and bad, because I simply can't accept the disparities. I am so, so lucky compared to most people in the world today and most people who have ever lived. I've spent most of today sheltering from the awful cold in a decent apartment listening to Spotify Premium and playing Callahan's Crosstime Saloon while millions of people didn't even get enough to eat. I have education and hobbies and realistic career goals while countless people have never had a higher purpose in life than staying alive. Am I better than them? Am I more deserving than them? Did a capricious God arbitrarily decide to favor me over them? The only adequate theistic explanation I can think of is that God blessed me so I can bless others, but that still makes me special, chosen, entrusted with a responsibility that most people aren't. It still rubs me the wrong way. The solutions to the problems of evil and suffering that I've been taught still more or less satisfy me, but I'm growing reluctant to call God "Father" or conceptualize our relationship in those terms, because if a "real" father treated people the same way, he would go to jail. If my "real" father had withheld basic human needs from me as a "learning experience" that would "make me stronger" or whatever, or if he'd given me the silent treatment for months at a time to "test my faith" or whatever, we would call that abuse. I'm not saying God's methodology is abusive, I'm just saying I'm no longer satisfied to think of it as parenthood.
So I gravitate nowadays toward a deist vision of a God who pushed a button, set a bunch of things in motion, and sat back to see what would happen. I'm inclined to feel - even as I recognize this is a privileged view that people whose lives are living hells might not be able to share - that my existence is a miracle and a joy not because it was premeditated and inevitable, but precisely because it wasn't. And yet... and yet I know, or at least have more cause to believe than I can seriously doubt, that God has intervened in my life sometimes, in response to prayer or just because. He may well intervene more often than I notice and I wouldn't notice because I don't notice. It's my burning desire for further guidance and aid that drives me to put so much effort into knowing him despite the impossibility of the task. And I still sense in my heart what a lot of people sense in their hearts even though their religions don't teach it - that in some way I existed before I was born, and had some idea what I was getting into and why it would be worth my while. Many people's experiences have shown that they knew each other before this life and only had to find each other again to recognize it. I think God does have a plan and I think he has things under control. So I have these contradictory philosophies going on in my head. Or rather, they seem contradictory to me now but they may both be correct from a certain point of view when God's bigness and complexity are finally understood, if ever, which I doubt.
Out of a silly concern for people's privacy, I used to give pseudonyms to everyone I wrote about on my blog. So when I wrote about my group from Shanan Ballam's Fall 2015 Poetry Writing course, I gave the members stupid pseudonyms: Bracelets, Redhead, and Glasses. And then Bracelets was the only one I wrote about consistently but I think I did mention the others once each. Anyway, I hate those nicknames now, so I'm going to come clean. Their names are Lauren, Clara, and Joe. That felt weird. I called Lauren "Bracelets" because she wore lots of bracelets on both arms, as well as hats with big, floppy brims and other generally fabulous clothing. She liked to be fabulous, but she wasn't conceited or anything. She was responsible for the formation of our group when she said those of us who happened to sit near her on the first day of class should just be a group, so she shaped my life in some ways with that thoughtless act. She also became a fan of my blog and more than once the only reason I continued writing it every week despite its very underwhelming performance. I would have given up back then, a few months after starting, but because of her I didn't, and now I've sunk too much time and energy into it to give up despite the paltry returns on my effort being nowhere near worth it. Thanks, Lauren, I say sarcastically.
On my phone, she was and remains listed as "Lady Lauren" because she had an affinity for the romanticized version of the Middle Ages that we all know never really existed. I don't even remember why, but she once told me, "You're my knight in shining armor." And I told another woman about that and the other woman said, "Dude, either she likes you, or you're really deep in the friend zone." Women are allowed to say "friend zone" unironically without getting their heads bitten off because reasons. But Lauren was just big on being a lady and being treated like a lady and stuff. In her phone, I discovered one day that I was listed as "Christopher Aspie Friend". I posted on Facebook, "Today I found out that my crush has me listed in her phone as 'Christopher Aspie Friend'. I'm not sure how I feel about that." I felt safe posting it because Lauren didn't have Facebook. A couple months later, some random lady liked the post. The random lady, upon investigation, turned out to be Lauren's mother.
I think I'm still listed as "Christopher Aspie Friend", and I'm torn between wanting to keep it that way for nostalgia's sake and wanting to change it because I now know that Hans Asperger collaborated with the Nazis by knowingly referring children with disabilities to be murdered at the Am Spiegelgrund clinic. (Nobody knew this in 2015.) I have ceased using Aspie or Asperger's as a descriptor in any other context.
I never mentioned on my blog how she broke my heart, but I did cryptically allude to it with some very melodramatic language that's still better poetry than any of the actual poetry I wrote for our poetry class. Around that time, though, I saw Disney's Inside Out and learned that it's okay to be sad sometimes, and that was powerful. She started dating the guy she'd called "basically my brother" and then that ended but I still didn't have a chance. Anyway, we remained good friends but we argued sometimes because I got frustrated with her sometimes. I won't talk about why because I don't want to criticize her, and I'm sure she had legitimate reasons to be frustrated with me too, and I didn't fully appreciate the toll that the hardship she was going through must have taken. Let's just say we weren't great at communicating. We stayed in touch after she graduated and moved on, and I got her into the Star Wars fandom and found out she was already in the Legend of Zelda fandom, but sometimes she stopped responding to texts for months at a time and I still don't know why. I have another friend who was like that for the better part of a decade, but it was because she periodically relapsed into heroin and felt embarrassed to talk to me, so I don't know what the deal was here.
Most recently, Lauren stopped responding for about twenty-six months. In late 2019 I was texting her once a week with no response, and then in early 2020 I told her to have a nice life, which, even though it sounds like a nice thing to say, is actually a rude thing to say. My frustration this time around stemmed in large part from waiting indefinitely on the feedback she had promised for the book that I'd sent her in April and she'd finished reading in July or so. I still texted her happy Easter 2020 and then in October 2020 I texted her to mention that I had a dream where she told me why she'd disappeared for a year, and I was very disappointed when I woke up. But I just accepted that she would probably not be part of my life again and I didn't know why. I didn't expect anything to happen when I texted her Merry Christmas this year. And nothing did happen for three days. But then -
So this was a really, really nice surprise. I do hope she'll stick around for a while. I haven't asked about why she disappeared or why she didn't give me feedback on my book, and I'm sure I will at some point but first and foremost I'm just grateful to have her back and I have no hard feelings whatsoever. I value her friendship very much. I don't even feel like my former romantic interest in her was a complete waste of time like most of my romantic interests have been. Her kindness, her intelligence, her thoughtfulness, and her sense of humor, besides just generally making her a good person to associate with and a positive influence on my life, have helped to shape my vision of the kind of woman I'm going to marry. The thing I like most about her sense of humor is how we can take a joke that isn't all that funny and play along with it so seriously that our seriousness about the joke becomes the joke. Anyway, maybe I can't adequately convey what I'm trying to convey in this post to those who haven't met her, but our reconnection is the greatest thing that's happened to me for a while and though it came out of the blue, I'm sure I was prompted to text her Merry Christmas, and it increases my confidence in the glorious promises God has made me if I can just be patient and stay close to Him.
Ten Years in Utah
Today I've lived in Utah for ten years. On the one hand I can't believe it's been that long, and on the other hand I can't believe it's only been that long. Time is weird. I feel twenty-eight going on eighty. Now is the time to wax all poetic about this milestone, but I realized I said everything I need to say on this day last year, so I will redirect any inquiries to that post. I commemorated the date, though, by attempting to recreate in Spotify playlist form a CD-R labeled "Alternative" that I found on the kitchen table after my roommate moved out. This would have been in late August 2011, but as I don't remember the date I still associate it nostalgically with my Utah debut. I still have the CD somewhere, all scratched up, and someday I'll check what order the tracks are actually in and adjust the playlist to match, but what really matters is creating the playlist today so that the date next to all the tracks when viewed in the desktop app will be July 11 even though, as previously noted, July 11 is not the date I found the CD. It was on shuffle the first time I listened to it anyway, so the incorrect order here doesn't drive me crazy in the meantime. "Sad Sad City" was first.
Now I will continue to record some of the thrilling events of my life. The night of Independence Day, I set out to walk to the Temple Boulevard to watch the fireworks and subsequent fires, and it almost immediately started to rain. I was so happy. I didn't care how wet I got. Utah desperately needs rain. I watched fireworks in the rain for a bit and then suddenly I was starving, and then I saw, as tends to only happen when I stop checking my phone every ten minutes, that I had missed a message from some girl in the ward inviting everyone to get s'mores, and I was so hungry that I decided to try my luck even though I was an hour late by the time I found her house. No answer at the front door, but I saw the kitchen light was on so I went around and tried the back. She was in her backyard alone watching the fire die. We put on some more wood, I had five s'mores, and we talked from 11 to 12:45, and I suffered for that for a couple days. It continued to drizzle and it was wonderful.
The next day I went up to Idaho with some people to float down the Oneida River. As we got close, the sky became so grey that I planned to say "Do you think it will rain?" but never got a convenient pause in the conversation to do so, and then the question became moot because it rained. It rained hard. It rained buckets. It continued to rain as we arrived, got out of the trucks and got our tubes ready. It felt miserable, but again, I was so happy. Idaho desperately needs rain. I'm happy for others to be blessed as I am blessed.
As it happens, the weather was perfect during most of the actual floating, with a lot of sunshine and just a bit of drizzle as the clouds remained menacingly in the background. The river flowed faster than usual. This only became an issue when I got separated from the others as the current took me off the main route to a dead end, and I got out and walked my tube along the shore back to where the current went the right way, but when I got there it was too fast and pulled me right into itself, clinging vertically to the tube and unable to pull myself up, feet hitting against the rocks. An overhanging tree branch promised salvation, then stubbornly squeezed through my fingers. I swore a bit. My experience walking barefoot on asphalt and gravel just because I can paid off, though - I had cuts on the sides and tops of my feet, but none on the bottoms. So with the exception of those five minutes, it was a good time.
Technically I have a lot more time to write on this blog than I did while in graduate school, but I find week after week that I just don't feel like it. I'm relaxing, dang it. I've been reading books in preparation for my thesis, watching The Bad Batch and The Simpsons and The Chosen and Nostalgia Critic and The Legend of Zelda fan films, and studying German a little bit. While I'm hardly being the most productive person ever, I find day after day that I run out of time to do everything I wanted to do, which is a good problem to have compared to being painfully bored and lonely and having to think of busywork just to make the time go by. Anyway, that's why this post is crap. (Insert your own quip about all my posts being crap here.) What I need to do now is really set out in earnest on writing my thesis, but I've procrastinated on that just a bit. It's intimidating to start with nothing toward the end goal of a novella. I've always worked better under pressure. Summer still feels like it will never end, though with this drought and heat wave, I sure hope it will.
In "A Link to the Present: Class Consciousness and the Need for Change in the Legend of Zelda", David Lasby argues, "Today the world is suffering more than any time in recent memory. COVID-19 has exacerbated the tensions already pulling societies apart. Economic inequality already reached record gaps even before the pandemic. Millennials and Generation Z held a deep skepticism of institutions long before the current crises, which has produced astonishing failings at the highest levels of power. The time has come to produce a Zelda game that reckons with these very issues facing humanity.... It is time for a Zelda game that evolves past bloodlines and sacred institutions and embraces the skepticism and class-consciousness of this moment.... The growing crisis of our time requires a new kind of hero, a transcendent storytelling. This threat also provides opportunity. Now is the moment to give us a Zelda game worthy to be called high art."
Responses to this pretentious crap have been overwhelmingly negative. "Good grief," said Stormcrow. "I get so sick of 'Its about time...' proposals that simply suggest the thing they're talking about look and sound like everything else in the culture right now. Class struggle? How original. How challenging. Yawn. I'd rather see people inspired to be a hero, than inspired to make sure everyone around them knows how oppressed they are."
In calling it pretentious crap, I don't mean that I'm against everything he says. I fully support the Legend of Zelda series trying out interesting new directions and breaking the old formula, as it did with "Breath of the Wild". As a writer myself I am inclined to prioritize the story over the gameplay, which is the opposite of Nintendo's approach since they are, after all, a game company. I would applaud more complexity and nuance. And like many, I really want to see the series namesake take on a more active role in her own games. I get that most countries don't want the heir to their throne running around having dangerous adventures, but there are ways around that. The much-maligned cartoon series got around it by making her father senile. "The Wind Waker" got around it by making her a pirate queen who didn't remember her real identity. And I had an idea years ago for a fan fiction called "The Z-Team" where she leads a band of guerilla fighters to retake her throne. It was going to have an epic tagline like "She wants her kingdom back, and she isn't asking nicely" or perhaps "When diplomacy fails, Triforce." The only reason I didn't write it is that I'm lazy.
But the series is, at its heart, a way to escape from the real world and have some fun for a little while. I enjoy it precisely because the boundless and unapologetically weird world it creates is not this one. And while I'm there, I'm perfectly willing to slip into a different mindset and accept ideas that would be repugnant in real life - that one race rules by divine birthright because the blood of a literal goddess flows in their veins, that certain people are predestined to sacrifice their own comfort and normal lives to be heroes for everyone else, and that it's okay for thirty-five year old men to dress up in green jumpsuits and think they're fairies. When I want more serious or unorthodox themes than what the games offer I can read fan fiction. In one fan fiction I particularly like (spoiler alert), Hyrule's three patron goddesses are revealed to be ordinary women who accidentally became immortal, used their free time to learn all about science and create the world, and set up the eternal cycle of good versus evil so they could bet on the outcome because they were bored. How's that for distrust of institutions? I love such a cynical deconstruction of Hyrule's theology, but I'm glad it's not canon.
The comment that got my attention the most was from one David Garcia Abril, who wrote, "Over the years, I've come to DESPISE the concept of high-art, since it's basically two things:
"- Just another form of tribalism.
"- A death cult.
"As for tribalism, because it basically divides people into groups in which one is considered inherently superior to another. People who enjoy 'high-art' is considered intellectually, or even morally superior to the low scum who enjoy 'popular art', thus giving an excuse to believe they are entitled to see those people with condescension at best and disgust at worst.
"And a death cult, because it worships negative emotions (sadness, hate, depression, despair, etc) above everything else, while positive emotions are dismissed as 'just escapism', and are only allowed in 'high-art' when they are put to serve a contrast to negative emotions. Just to give an example: most actors and writers would tell you that making the audience to genuine laugh is far more difficult than to make them cry. And yet, tragedy is easily considered high-art, while comedy has to really struggle to get that status (and even when it does, more often than not, it's because it has dark elements to it). In other words, 'high-art' celebrates the emotions that remind our lizard brains of the constant presence of death, and then have the audacity of consider them inherently superior to the emotions that make life worth living. Just to clarify here, there should be place in art for both of those things. We still have to cope with negative emotions, and the catharsis we get from art can be a powerful thing. It's the inherent hierarchy in which those emotions are put what is completely messed up when you stop and think about it.
"So, yeah, f*** high-art."
I for one have never been particularly concerned about what anyone else thinks about art. Some of my favorite people are artists, and I mean no offense if any of them actually ever talk like that in real life, but I just like what I like and everyone else is welcome to like what they like, and we don't need to apologize or explain ourselves to anybody, and I think most of the fancy words some people use to explain why everyone else should like what they like are pretentious crap. If nothing else, they can take their sense of elitism and shove it. If I like what someone else considers "low art" I don't need to justify myself to them by calling it "a guilty pleasure". Granted, I may not be in a position to fairly evaluate the situation since I've mostly learned about it from "Calvin and Hobbes".
I found David Garcia Abril's comment interesting, though, not just for how it puts certain people in their place but also because I find myself one of the exceptions to his "most actors and writers". Mostly the writer part. I'm not an actor and there are no videos on YouTube of me trying to act, so don't waste your time looking for them. But in my case, I find comedy easier to work with than tragedy.
I know I can be funny because I often make people laugh, usually on purpose. In high school it was easy because everyone knew me as someone who rarely spoke, and when I did it took everyone by surprise and magnified even the slightest humor potential. Like one time my math teacher said she liked math more than history because it's not so violent. I said, "Except for when seven eight nine." There was an awkward silence as everyone processed the fact that I had spoken, and then they all laughed themselves to tears at the thing I said that I'll be the first to admit wasn't really that funny. And then I never consciously set out to try to become a funny person but over the years I've just sort of internalized certain skills and principles from witnessing other people be funny, and sometimes when I'm with people and they're talking my brain happens to work fast enough to craft something relevant that will make them laugh. Basically I'm saying that I'm smart. I don't know how to say that without sounding conceited so I'll just say it and move on.
I don't typically have the luxury of hearing whether anyone laughs when they read my writing, but I assume that's funny sometimes too because I draw on the same principles and in this case have the advantage of time to think about it, fine-tune it just right, and come back and edit it later if I think of something better. Of course I often write things that I think are brilliant and then become self-conscious and think they're terrible as soon as I hit "Post". I wasn't sure if my recent satire of creationism that I'd been all excited about was any good after all until a Christian biochemist that I admire went to the trouble of thinking up a comment that, while ostensibly criticizing my piece, totally played along with and expanded on the central joke. It was the most flattering thing I could have imagined, even more flattering than all the "Haha" reactions from Facebook combined.
I put a lot of thought into most of the jokes in that post, but at one point I also threw in a random line about God wanting to get the deposit back on the Garden of Eden, just kind of being like, Whatever, I'm not sure what the actual joke is here but maybe it's goofy enough to get a smile. And one of my friends said, "Oh my heck!! Not getting the deposit back on the garden of eden had me rolling." Conclude from that what you will.
In my experience getting an English degree, I indeed found myself somewhat unique in my propensity to gravitate toward humorous writing. Everyone else in my classes did more "serious" stuff and even if one or two of them was technically a better writer than me, I took comfort in knowing that I filled a different niche and we could coexist without fighting to the death. I gravitate toward humorous writing because it's the kind of thing I typically want to read, because these are, as David said, the emotions that make life worth living. That's just a personal preference and not a dig at my classmates. At least most of them didn't try to be too "deep" and come across as pretentious or condescending. "Deep" messages are all well and good but I think they should usually be imparted with a healthy dose of humor, without taking oneself too seriously (think Douglas Adams), because I'm not interested in being preached at by someone who thinks mankind's angst is such a big screaming deal. We're born on a microscopic dot in a microscopic dot, we make a lot of mistakes, and we die a very short time later having left no measurable impact on the universe, so let's have a bit of humility.
I think comedy is easy because there's so much leeway. You can come up with something legitimately brilliant and clever on multiple levels, or sometimes you can say something so stupid it's funny, and get people to play along and then the seriousness with which you all take this stupid joke becomes the joke, and then if it becomes a running gag or inside joke it gets funnier every time as long as you don't overdo it, but sometimes you can overdo it on purpose and make it funny again, like that one famous scene from "The Simpsons" where Sideshow Bob steps on nine rakes in a row. And not that you necessarily should, but as long as you wait long enough you can make almost any inappropriate and/or tragic topic into a joke. Humor is a mechanism of catharsis that helps us to cope with this hell we call reality. Making sad things funny is much, much easier than making funny things sad. I can't think of a single example of the latter off the top of my head. Of course I try to be a good Christian and draw the line a lot sooner than many would, but I enjoy dark humor very much.
Heck, even the wokest, most progressive people can do pretentious mental gymnastics to make themselves feel okay about laughing at things they know are wrong. Russell Marks: "Perhaps the cleverest thing about The Book of Mormon [musical] is the way it manages to keep actually-racist white people out of the theatres while using black actors who have no creative control to tell jokes written by non-racist white people about Africans that would be blatantly racist if there were actually-racist white people in the audience and if Parker and Stone had intended to be racist instead of satirical. This is quite a complicated manoeuvre, and it obviously takes quite a high level of sophistication to grasp it fully. Sophisticated critics clearly ‘get it’. The ‘parody’ of Africa is ‘far too close for comfort’, wrote Peter Craven in The Saturday Paper, but ‘the chief comfort of The Book of Mormon is that its fundamental structures, the foundation upon which it rests, is unspeakable bad taste’. Less sophisticated people might interpret that as another way of saying that racism is actually OK if you intend it in bad taste, but such an interpretation would presumably only betray their lack of sophistication."
Pulling off negative emotions well is much harder from my perspective, and I don't think a lot of people manage it, but this probably is more my personal problem than any shortcoming on their part. The experiences of my life have led me to construct a lot of barriers around my heart and try to avoid emotional vulnerability as much as possible. I also have to suppress a lot of my natural empathy so I'm not constantly miserable about all the suffering in the world that I can't do anything about. So when it's obvious to me that a writer or filmmaker or whomever is trying to elicit a certain emotional reaction from me with the phraseology or the music or whatever, when they're basically screaming "THIS IS SUPPOSED TO MAKE YOU SAD AND/OR INTROSPECTIVE", I put up the barriers and refuse to let them get away with it, unless I'm so invested in the characters and the setting that I still notice but don't care. The only movies I can think of right now that make me cry are "Revenge of the Sith", "Rogue One", "Return of the Jedi", "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", "Remember the Titans", "Temple Grandin", "The Cokeville Miracle", and some of the Pixar movies. I can't think of any books that make me cry.
The Zelda game "Ocarina of Time" doesn't pretend to be anything super deep but it does manage to make me cry. It deals with some simple but heart-wrenching themes and ends on a rather bittersweet note. As far as negative emotions go, though, I think "Majora's Mask" is the champion. It carries a very dark, unsettling and somber tone throughout, just unpleasant enough to be intriguing instead of actually, well, unpleasant. The world of Termina is full of Nightmare Fuel and at the start of the game is three days away from being crushed by the moon. "Final Hours", the melancholy tune that plays on the last day against the rumble of earthquakes and the clanging of the clock tower as the moon fills the sky, is one of the most underrated video game compositions in the history of ever. (But the silly and lighthearted moments balance things out!) Actually, "Majora's Mask" also anticipated twenty years ago some of the real-life subtext that David Lasby craves. I used to think, "It's ridiculous how the people of Clock Town start out so nonchalant and in denial that the freaking moon is going to kill them all when it's right there for everyone to see." But now with the current situation in the United States I think, "Oh."
In a review of the fan-made game "The Legend of Zelda: The Fallen Sage", someone with the screen name Asinine wrote, "Let's get to the very first problem and the reason for why I have a grudge against the man who wrote this lore: The 'making it more mature part'. This is a very noble thing to attempt, a more mature Zelda title is certain to appeal to quite a lot of people, but not enough for Nintendo to genuinely cater to. However, there is a difference between 'mature' and 'childish'. Mature is when you tackle interesting and controversial problems with a sense of dignity and purpose, I feel like I am experiencing something mature when I am playing around in The Path and I am slowly realizing the subtle commentary on modern-day parenting the game contains. What certainly doesn't qualify as mature is a never-ending flow of depressing events befalling on a cast of suicidal characters.
"Having depressive themes in your game is not bad by default, but when you are endlessly throwing in more excuses to make your characters sad, it loses it's mature intentions and it instead becomes sadistic. We are no longer exploring a world with genuine troubles, but rather the author's sadistic fantasies."
So I find tragedy a lot easier to get wrong than comedy. Of course I still dabble in them on this blog and in my works of fiction because they are a necessary ingredient most of the time, especially in a story that needs to have actual conflict and stakes and drama, but I feel very inadequate. I feel like any attempt to make my readers feel things is hamfisted and clumsy and even more obvious than most. That's one reason why I'm more likely to just be sarcastic even when dealing with dark topics like police brutality or mass shootings or being suicidal. I'm not trying to be funny as such, because like I said I place boundaries on my use of dark humor, but as a more jaded and detached way of getting the information across, and to direct righteous anger at the people who should be doing things but aren't as opposed to just trying to be sad about the things that aren't being done. I think this is one of my bigger weaknesses as a writer and maybe I'll be able to tackle it in graduate school.
Anyway, this is obviously just how things are for me and not meant to refute most actors and writers who find tragedy easier than comedy, but I found David Garcia Abril's comment thought-provoking and figured it was as good a jumping-off point for a blog post as any.
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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.