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The Wasted Women of Star Trek, Part 3: Beverly Crusher

Saturday, October 25th, 2014 - by Ash Freeman

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Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing dialogue about Star Trek, women, and feminism. See Ash’s previous installments The Wasted Women of Star Trek, Part 1: Tasha YarThe Wasted Women of Star Trek, Part 2: Deanna Troi, and April Bey’s “An Artist Trekkie’s Guide For Becoming a Better Person.” 

Of the three original female leads of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Beverly Crusher is the one that ended up the most well-rounded, but that’s not saying much. Her appearances were even, more often than not showing up as a plot device so as to create that week’s magic cure if the problem wasn’t technobabble-related. She had kind of a rocky start, but came away more developed than even Geordi La Forge or arguably William Riker.

The problem is that development never went very far. Is that a flaw in the character, or a flaw in the conventions of the show?

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10 Hits and Misses in Gotham’s First Five Episodes

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

Fox’s Gotham has been running for a few weeks now, and it’s off to a bittersweet start. The Batman show without Batman serves as a prequel to the mythology we know.

There’s a lot to like in Gotham. It looks great, shot in New York and enhanced with seamless visual effects. The performances are solid, often transcending weak scripts.

But overall, Gotham suffers from an identity crisis. This show can’t decide what it’s trying to be. One scene evokes the grounded tone of The Dark Knight. The next evokes the camp of 1966. Here are 10 hits and misses in Gotham’s first five episodes.

5. Miss: Fish Mooney

The Portrayal: Jada Pinkett Smith lends the series its greatest star power. Her character, underworld player Fish Mooney, was conceived for the series as a new addition to the Batman mythology. Mooney serves as a lieutenant in the Falcone crime family. She despises her boss and aspires to replace him as the dominant figure in Gotham’s underworld.

Why It’s a Miss: It’s fitting that Fish Mooney was created uniquely for this show, because she personifies its tonal inconsistency. It’s unclear whether we’re meant to root for her or against her. In one scene, she’s ordering the brutal torture and execution of police officers, as if it’s no big deal. In the next, she’s helplessly browbeat by Falcone and proven largely impotent. Pinkett Smith chews the scenery, evoking the camp of the 1960s television show. Her portrayal has been described as an “Eartha Kitt impersonation.”

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DC Film Suicide Squad ‘a Dirty Dozen with Supervillains’

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

The Warner Bros. announced slate of films based on the DC Comics universe will differ significantly from the Marvel Cinematic Universe by quickly introducing a multitude of characters to be explored in latter films. For instance, the forthcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will see cameo appearances by Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg, each of whom have solo films slated for later in the decade.

The same holds true for the DC Comics supervillains. The next film scheduled for release after Batman v Superman is Suicide Squad, directed by Fury auteur David Ayer. Speaking to Empire, Ayer expressed enthusiasm regarding the prospect of “world creation” with ample time and money:

Money and time he’ll have plenty of – Suicide Squad is scheduled as the second DC behemoth to hit the big screen, following Batman V Superman in two years’ time – and, although he couldn’t say much, his vision for the movie should reassure fans. “I can say that it’s a Dirty Dozen with supervillains,” he said. “Then I can ask the question, ‘Does a movie really need good guys?’”

The studio is reportedly in talks with several “A list” actors to star in the film. Rumors include the likes of Will Smith, Tom Hardy, Ryan Gosling, and The Wolf of Wall Street’s Margot Robbie. The latter performer seems a good candidate to play Harley Quinn, a popular consort of the Joker originally conceived for Batman: The Animated Series who has yet to be portrayed on film.

The choice to introduce several characters right away, rather than meter them out in a phase of origin stories, indicates that Warner Bros. wants to quickly live up to the scope achieved by Marvel Studios. Whether that proves wise in the long-run is yet to be seen.

Should a character like Harley Quinn be introduced to audiences without the Joker? Will we care about a bunch of lesser known villains in a Dirty Dozen type scenario? Is Warner Bros. right to skip the origin stories and get right to the action in their cinematic DC Universe? Let us know in the comments section below.

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10+ Superhero Films Announced in Cinematic DC Universe

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

Last week delivered the motherlode of comic book movie news. First, on Tuesday, Variety reported that Marvel Studios is negotiating with Robert Downey Jr. to reprise the role of Iron Man in the third Captain America film. The new story will reportedly launch the “Civil War” arc from the comics, in which Cap and Iron Man find themselves leading opposing superhero factions after the government mandates all super-beings register their powers and enlist as agents.

Then, on Wednesday, Warner Bros. held a stockholders meeting during which they announced a 10 film slate in their planned cinematic DC Universe, to be produced through the balance of the decade. From Wired:

The already announced Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice serves as the starting point in 2016, with the nine subsequent movies setting up a cinematic DC Universe to rival Marvel’s onscreen efforts. Fans can expect to see Suicide Squad first, due the same year, then Wonder Woman in 2017, The Flash and Aquaman in 2018, Shazam in 2019, and Cyborg and Green Lantern in 2020. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the Justice League movie, which contrary to earlier reports of an Avengers-style team marquee film will instead be released in two parts, in 2017 and 2019.

By Thursday, a studio source clarified that additional solo Superman and Batman films will be peppered throughout that schedule. If the production slate holds true, we could have several years in which three DC films hit theaters. That’s in addition to the two which Marvel Studios has averaged, adding up to five potential superhero films a year until 2020.

“It’s an age of miracles,” film director Jon Schnepp swooned to his AMC Movie Talk cohort while contemplating this moment in cinematic history. Ten years ago, who would have thought that the superhero genre would be as prolific as it has become. From Marvel Studios adaptation of their rich comic book story arcs to Christopher Nolan’s transcendent Dark Knight trilogy, the genre has undergone a thorough makeover in recent years. Now, it’s set to dominate for a generation.

Will the market get saturated? Will interest wane? Can Marvel maintain the quality that they’ve put out so far? Will DC ever catch up? Post your thoughts below.

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6 Reasons Why People Avoid Anime

Friday, October 17th, 2014 - by Isaac A. Hunt

Anime is a very divisive medium, to say the least. It elicits rabid joy in some, but can bring out ire and revulsion in equal measure. Why is this? What is it about anime that drives people away? Is it a cultural xenophobia from the West, or is there something deeper? While it may be easier to attribute this reluctance to ignorance and a skewed view of cartoons, it is not the correct answer. There are a few constant trends in anime that have become the face to the general public. In this article, I will highlight and explore them. What do they offer, and why are people repelled by them?

6. Filler

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Dragonball Z, Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach. These series are by far some of the most well-known in the west, reaching into even non-anime viewer bases. However, while these shows attract new viewers (especially children and adolescents), there’s a problem. The shiny gloss of action and goofiness wears off, and the viewer is left with nothing but dull filler.

“Filler” refers to episodes of anime that have nothing to do with the main plot. The shows mentioned above are infamous for meandering through filler episodes at a snail’s pace, taking time to sniff the roses, while everyone is waiting to move on with the ride. After a while, people get tired of wasting time on a show that stagnates, and abandon it. These people are left with a sour taste in their mouths, and you can’t blame them — once bitten, twice shy.

Filler comes with a series that runs too long. As time progresses, the characters get old, and don’t change in any way. However, in order to pad out episode numbers, the producers do whatever they can for as cheaply as possible. Whatever keeps the golden goose laying eggs.

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The 10 Coolest Sci-Fi Technologies and How Close They Are to Reality

Friday, October 17th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

The cell phone. The tablet. The touchscreen interface. All were once figments of imagination portrayed in science fiction. But for every imagined sci-fi technology that becomes realized, many more remain outside our grasp. Some are peaking over the horizon, while their most promising applications remain untold years away. Here are the 10 coolest sci-fi technologies, and how close they are to reality.

10. Terraforming

What It Is: While scientists have located planets with characteristics essential to supporting life, to date, the search for a habitable planet has confirmed nothing. If human beings hope to survive on a planet other than Earth without remaining confined to artificial structures, we will have to engineer methods to transform alien planets into Earth-like ones. That process is called terraforming.

Why It’s Cool: We live in a time when no real frontier remains. With the exception of the ocean’s most obscure depths, human beings have been everywhere on Earth. The ability to successfully terraform, combined with interstellar travel, would open up the galaxy to human colonization. That would provide those with the necessary means and pioneer spirit to seek new worlds where human freedom could be explored anew.

How Close to Reality: Pretty far. Terraforming Mars, the only planet in our solar system which stands as a reasonable candidate for the process, would take “several millennia” utilizing currently hypothesized methods. Giant orbital mirrors would reflect sunlight to the surface, and greenhouse gas-producing factories would work to heat and sustain the atmosphere. Basically, it’s Al Gore’s worst nightmare.

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The Wasted Women of Star Trek, Part 1: Tasha Yar

Monday, October 13th, 2014 - by Ash Freeman

Editor’s Note: This is the beginning of a series exploring the portrayal of women in the Star Trek franchise. Ash Freeman will focus on Star Trek: The Next Generation, April Bey will explore Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek Voyager. Those interested in contributing to analyzing the original series, the rebooted films, and other installments in the franchise are invited to submit their ideas for articles.

Star Trek as a whole is host to a vast array of characters, some more memorable than others. Loved or reviled, there are some characters that just stick with you. Female characters, however, seem to get the short end of the stick more often than not when it came to depth and development.

1. Tasha Yar

Tasha’s character had her roots in the space marine Vasquez, from Aliens. Yar was originally conceived as “Mancha Hernandez,” and read for by Marina Sirtis. The character was renamed to Tasha Yar when Sirtis and Denise Crosby switched roles. Crosby had initially auditioned for the part of Deanna Troi. The effect this could have had on the show had they kept the characters they auditioned for is unknown. As it happened, the death of Tasha in the Season 1 episode “Skin of Evil” would greatly influence the development of Lieutenant Worf. Ironically, it was largely a lack of development for Yar that would cause Crosby to leave the show in the first place.

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The 10 Most Remarkable Bond Girls of All Time

Friday, October 10th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series by Walter Hudson exploring the James Bond series. Also check out the previous installments: “The 10 Most Memorable James Bond Henchmen” and “The Top 10 Most Worthy Bond Villains.” 

We recently learned that French actress Léa Seydoux will join Daniel Craig and much of the cast from Skyfall as a femme fatale in the 24th James Bond film. Seydoux played a similar role in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. She joins a sisterhood of glamorous and seductive women who have led Bond astray or succumbed to his charms over five decades of film.

When tasked with ranking Bond’s female companions, the criteria I chose were more than just beauty or sex appeal. Every Bond girl has those. These are the women who most impacted the course of the franchise, who marked key moments, set strong precedents, or played a profound role in shaping Bond’s character. Here are the 10 most remarkable Bond girls of all time.

10. Jinx

Die Another Day marked a significant moment in the franchise’s history. The film was released on the 40th anniversary of Dr. No, the first Bond adventure. It was the 20th film in the series. It also served as the swan song for actor Pierce Brosnan, who had successfully reinvigorated the character after the longest lull in the series’ history.

Such a moment calls for a Bond girl of remarkable stature, a known quantity whose beauty and talent separate her from the pack of interchangeable consorts. Halle Berry fit the bill, lending the perfect balance of snark and sexy to end the Brosnan era.

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The Top 10 Fantasy Heroes of All Time

Thursday, October 9th, 2014 - by Pierre Comtois

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The first thing to get straight is the definition of fantasy. It’s not science fiction whose stories are based around scientific concepts and devices; it’s not horror whose stories depend on emotion and the supernatural; and it’s not mystery whose plots demand logic and deductive reasoning. Fantasy involves ordinary people in tales that take place within an essentially irrational milieu but who manage to keep hold of their humanity even in the face of the impossible.

What modern readers take for granted as a fictional pastime however, previous generations once accepted as reality. From the pantheons of Greek, Norse, and Egyptian gods to more down to earth champions such as Gilgamesh, Hercules, or St. George, tales of larger-than-life heroes and their struggles against monsters and dragons were to different extents, believed and accepted as fact by people through most of human history.

The fact is, men needed such heroes to make them feel safe in a world that was largely inscrutable or worse, seemed to deliberately target human beings for destruction be it by flood, earthquake, disease, or frightful creatures with which imagination populated the unknown darkness beyond the campfire. More than anything else, it was man’s insecurity and helplessness against the forces of nature that compelled him to create heroes who could confront those dangers.

For centuries, the assumed existence of heroes like Beowulf comforted mankind until they were rudely taken away with the advent of the Renaissance and the subsequent rise of science. But science and reason didn’t remove the need for the heroic ideal. Where the cold logic of science failed to move the human spirit, the example of the hero who struggles against great odds and winning through still possessed its power to inspire.

Modern fantasy might be said to have its beginnings on the Continent with what are known today as “fairy tales,” frequently dark stories of trolls and witches intended mostly to frighten children into staying in bed at night. And from France in particular, were popular tales of King Arthur that gradually spread across the Channel to England. Eventually, various stories about Arthur were collected by Sir Thomas Mallory as Le Morte d’Arthur from which modern “adult” fantasy can be directly traced.

Le Morte d’Arthur‘s origins in England might explain why most modern “adult” fantasy that has been written has been a product of Great Britain where such writers as William Beckford, William Morris, and George MacDonald began to contribute to the genre in the mid to late 1800s. Through their efforts, the hero as a figure in the popular imagination, made a comeback. Embodying the qualities of courage, intelligence, morality, and charisma, heroes dominated most tales of fantasy literature. And so, the following list of the top 10 fantasy heroes of all time.

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Top 10 Reasons to Get Excited About Star Wars Rebels

Saturday, September 27th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

Before Disney acquired Lucasfilm, the only fresh on-screen Star Wars content fans had to cling to was The Clone Wars animated series on the Cartoon Network. The show was hit or miss over its five aired seasons, occasionally hitting the right tone, but too often floundering with lame characters and boring stories.

Season Five particularly lagged with back-to-back four-episode story arcs centered around the misadventures of child padawans and astromech droids. Four. Episodes. It was ridiculous and indicative of the show’s tendency to skew too far from the recipe which makes Star Wars work.

The announcement of Disney’s acquisition came as Season Five concluded. Not long after, The Clone Wars was abruptly cancelled. Fans feared that might be the end of Star Wars on television.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the new Lucasfilm to announce Star Wars Rebels, a new animated series set to air in October on Disney XD. Here are 10 reasons to get excited about this new Star Wars television show.

#10. The Return of Kenobi

Occurring in the timeline between Episodes III and IV of the film saga, Star Wars Rebels benefits from an era fertile for storytelling. The series deals with the initial sparks of rebellion which eventually foment into the Rebel Alliance seen in A New Hope.

During this time period, we know that Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi has exiled himself to the desert world of Tatooine to keep a close watch over the growth of Luke Skywalker. Fans have long wondered whether those years between defeating Vader on the slopes of Mustafar and seeking passage to Alderaan were spent meditating peacefully in his Jundland hovel or engaged in a more active role in galactic affairs.

This trailer for Rebels seems to indicate the latter. There’s something about this version of Kenobi, the hermit Ben draped in Jedi robe while graying in the beard, which excites more than his Clone Wars iteration.

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‘A Good Video Game Sparks my Imagination in the Same Fashion as a Good Book.’

Thursday, September 25th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 27 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

I always find it difficult to come up with a list of my favorite anything because I am very much a man of “feasts and seasons.” One day I will find myself raving about a certain book or movie, and the next day I am off in a completely different direction.  I don’t know what that precisely says about me, but there you go.  However, having said that, there are certain constants in my entertainment life.  For movies, I would have to say the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy is definitely near the topFrankly, this surprises me because I never was much of a fan of the fantasy genre (until I saw this movie franchise, anyway!), and I certainly wasn’t a “ringer”. However, after watching the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, I completely fell in love with Tolkien’s vision as had so many others before me.  It is just a wonderful tale about faith, friendship, and the importance of perseverance during difficult times. So that is definitely near that top.  Second, I guess would be the masterful war movie, Gettysburg.  In many ways, Gettysburg truly delivered on the idea that the American Civil War was “America’s Illiad.”  It is a suitably larger than life, sweeping, and almost mythical account of the most pivotal battle in that conflict, with the key historical figures wonderfully realized by their respective actors (most notably Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels, and Martin Sheen).  It also helped that my family and I just happened to visit the actual battlefield a mere week or two after shooting for the film had wrapped up!

Lastly, I would have to say I always enjoy the dark science fiction of Ridley Scott, particularly his two masterpieces: Alien and Blade Runner. In this day and age of theaters being filled with farcical science fiction, both movies are reminders that the genre can provide a mature, sober experience as well.

As for books – wow, that would be a long list.  I don’t really stick with any one writer anymore; the world of e-publishing has so opened the literary world that there isn’t time to just stick with one author or series when so many others are out there deserving of equal attention (Liberty Island is proof of that!).  Having said that, I do have ever increasing respect for the great works of mankind, be it the Bible (I prefer the Douay-Rheims translation), or the great philosophical and theological works like Plato’s The Republic, or Augustine’s City of God (currently slugging my way through the latter!).  Of course, I am always on the hunt for some good science fiction.  I particularly like some of the sci-fi novelizations and anthologies that have grown up around popular games, such as the Warhammer 40K or Shadowrun universes.  Such settings can be really refreshing because of their “getting back to basics” style of just plain fun storytelling in refreshingly dark and gritty settings.

As for intellectual influences, well, certainly my parents.  Our many kitchen table discussions about the issues of the day was what really awakened an intellectual curiosity in me.  I was also fortunate to have some very good political science professors who emphasized the classics, such as the aforementioned titles, as well as Hume, Locke, Aquinas, et cetera, and always reminded me that there was “nothing new under the sun” when it came to politics, advice that has served me well over the years.  And, of course, talk radio has served as a type of continuing education.  In many ways Mark Levin sounds just like some of my professors – his Ameritopia might as well be a Poli Sci 101 textbook!

How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Lifelong conservative.  Even before I really knew what that meant I instinctively knew it was my political philosophy.  I am old enough to have experienced the transition from the Carter years to the Reagan years, and even as a young man I could see the profound difference in the governing philosophy, and the resultant outcomes, of the two men.  As soon as I heard Reagan describe himself as a conservative, I knew that I was that too – despite the scorn of my high school teachers.

Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Certainly William F. Buckley, especially via his National Review.  Remember that television ad he used to run where you could sample an issue for free, and if you didn’t like it you could “burn it” (that ad always made me laugh!)?  Well, my parents got me the free issue after I expressed interest in that funny commercial.  I opened it one day and started reading it, really just out of curiosity.  Well, it was one of those moments where the heavens opened and a choir of angels started singing.  I was just so instantly impressed with the quality of NR!  Not just because of how it was addressing a side of the news that I had never encountered before – that was my wake-up call concerning the bias of the media – but also because the quality of the writing was so superlative. It was that magazine that helped me understand that good writing was truly a form of art, and I have been attempting to measure up to that standard ever since…usually unsuccessfully.

In addition to Buckley, certainly the great talk radio commentators like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and Laura Ingraham have been a continual influence.

What are your writing goals?

To always be a contrarian writer.  I instinctively dislike trends or market-tested “group think”.  I want my writing to always be its own thing, if you will.  Those books, those articles that have always stuck in my mind are the ones that got me to see something in a very different light, or to experience something new, or to visit a familiar setting but in a completely different fashion.  I never want to write something that is “by the numbers,” or that could serve as the next script for a Michael Bay film, if you will pardon my sarcasm.  That will always be my personal goal as a writer.

Where can people find/follow you online?

My primary online presence in the somewhat irregularly kept blog I have on video game news and views called Burke’s Joystick.  Sadly, as of late there is a leftward push in the video game journalism world, so my blog tries to cover video games from a conservative angle, as well as serving as a way to expose new people to the hobby, especially those who wrongly dismiss video games as mere “kid stuff.”   You can visit it here:  http://burkesjoystick.blogspot.com/

What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

Well, I am pretty sedate by nature, and not much of a lover of the outside world, so you aren’t going to get me to confess to anything truly crazy like cliff diving, or some other extreme sport.  For me, a thrilling evening is a good book and a glass of fine port!  So, I guess my “craziest” hobby would be games, any and all types, but in particular video games because the computer does all the work!  As with my experience with National Review, the clouds also opened for me when I received one of the original Atari 2600s as a gift.  Even as a child I could see the possibility for this new medium of entertainment.  While it has had its ups and downs, the video game industry has been more than a little successful in delivering on that promise.  A good video game sparks my imagination in the same fashion as a good book.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that video games have delivered far more original and entertaining stories and settings than anything I have seen come out of Hollywood in a long time. Even more interestingly, I have seen more than a few video games expose some fantastic if obscure science fiction and fantasy books to a larger audience.

For example, the Strugatsky brothers’ Roadside Picnic was adapted into the popular Stalker series of video games, and Andrzej Sapkowski’s dark fantasy The Last Wish became the beloved Witcher video game franchise.  In many ways, the video game industry has been far more adventurous in finding fresh material for their medium than Hollywood or television has been, which is why I continue to find it such a rewarding hobby. And, of course, you have had the reverse where a popular game has spawned a popular book series of its own, such as the aforementioned Warhammer 40K – some of its novelizations have already graced the New York Times bestsellers list.  Gaming is long past the days of Pac-Man and Space Invaders! 

Read S.D. Tortorice’s essay, “That’s No Moon, That’s a Free Market” at Liberty Island. Here’s the start:

I am a gray pixel. That is, I am a middle aged video gamer who has been playing games for quite a few decades now, really, all the way back to the early days of the Atari 2600. And I have seen a lot of gaming trends over those years. A lot. But there is one aspect of the video game culture that has remained constant, a guiding “North Star” of the hobby if you will, that has always intrigued me. Simply, it would be the burning love exhibited by the gaming community for space games. And not just any type of space game–I am not talking Space Invaders here–but for games where the player is permitted to enjoy the limitless freedom that outer space provides, particularly economic freedom. Really, when it comes to video games, space simulations have proven to be the hobby’s monument to Milton Friedman.

Huh? What is that? You thought video games were decidedly anti-conservative, like the rest of the pop culture? Actually, no. As someone who has not only been a long-time gamer but has also done my fair share of gaming journalism, I can assure you that a lot of the themes in the world of gaming are actually conservative in temperament. So conservative, in fact, that as of late a number of progressive developers have been attempting to pull the industry leftward. For example, Red Redemption released Fate of the World in which the player is made global dictator and charged with “protecting the Earth’s resources and climate versus the needs of an ever-growing world population.” Molleindustria, a publisher that calls for the “radicalization of popular culture,” offers Phone Story, a mobile game that “attempts to provoke a critical reflection on its own technological platform” by making the player “symbolically complicit in coltan extraction in Congo, outsourced labor in China, e-waste in Pakistan and gadget consumerism in the West.” Video games have now entered the realm of political propaganda.

Despite such progressive forays into gaming, most video games remain rather conservative in their outlook. And none more so than open world, colloquially known as “sandbox” space games in which the player is challenged to make a living by trading and mission-running out on what Gene Roddenberry so appropriately termed “the final frontier”. This idea of a game built around the roguish space trader preceded even such iconic space smugglers as Star Wars‘ Han Solo or Firefly‘s Malcolm Reynolds. And David Kaufman coded Space Trader back in 1974. But it wouldn’t be until 1984 when David Braben releasedElite on the BBC Micro that the a space trading game genre would really hit the big time. That game is often considered to be the one of the greatest ever made. Its success was followed by other popular titles, such as Christopher Roberts’ Freelancer, a 2003 mega-hit in the world of would-be space entrepreneurs. The genre had definitely found an audience.

Regardless of the specific title, the theme always remained the same when it came to such economically oriented space sims. Rarely did the player need to acquire a spaceship just to pick up his government cheese at the nearest space welfare office. Rather, gameplay always revolved around the player setting out on a daring new life, free from the nanny state hassles of Hillary Clinton’s “It Takes a Village” manifesto, where the player could pursue fame and fortune as he saw fit. This theme continues to be a mainstay of the genre, as evidenced by the latter-day offspring of Braben’s and Roberts’ classic titles. For example, read this official description of EVE Online, one of the more popular contemporary “sandbox” space games:

“Economic power and industrial might are as crucial to the capsuleers of EVE as to any other society that has sought to impose its will on history. The space-industrial economy of New Eden is increasingly controlled by the capsuleers, who produce and use a large proportion of its vast output. Capsuleers mine asteroid belts and moons for vital resources. They exploit planets through their colonies and build starbases and outposts, in order to refine minerals and create exotic new materials. These pilots research their own creations and construct them in nanoforges controlled by sophisticated blueprints. The capsuleer market sees trillions of ISK in transactions every day, with goods ranging from ore to battleships changing hands in vast quanities. This economy is the engine that drives EVE’s never-ending cycle of creation and destruction.”

EVE Online, like many space games, is built upon the notion of a free market–albeit, a sometimes violent, brass knuckles-enforced free market–that serves as the driving engine of a future civilization. The community wouldn’t have had it any other way. Indeed, international gamers, which number somewhere well over 400,000, have so embraced this laissez-faire environment over the game’s eleven year existence that the developer, CCP, needed to hire Dr. Eyjolfur Gudmundsson, an economist, to help keep the game’s economy under control. Dr. Gudmundsson, a newcomer to the world of video gaming, was stunned by the game’s complex economic model. He would write:

“EVE Online is emerging to become a true economic system which is self-sufficient in providing the goods and services required for its own universe, which has several categories of pilots and thousands

of items. The fact that EVE Online is a single universe in which all pilots can trade and share items directly with each other makes it one of the most complex virtual economic systems today.”

This title is not just capitalistic in gameplay, either. More than a few players have declared (in the game’s active forum community) that, having been exposed to EVE Online‘s thrilling free market environment, they chose to pursue real world entrepreneurial undertakings, or even a degree in business as a result. The game is what once might have been referred to as free market “edu-tainment”.

Yet another space game that exemplifies this laissez-faire attitude is the forthcoming title, Elite: Dangerous, the official sequel to Braben’s Elite from 1984 (a BBC Micro is no longer required, fortunately). Here is its description:

“You can trade for profit between systems, ruthlessly pillage and pilfer at any given opportunity, take part in alliances to bring down planetary economies, tipping the balance of power, or simply explore the open world wonders of the galaxy, together or alone….Your first trade is much more than merely padding your bank account – it puts you in the driving seat of your own story. Your choices can make you wealthy, can make you powerful, and can make you knowledgeable, but can also make you the target of every Elite-wannabe from here to the edge of the galaxy.”

Again, is this not the essence of a free market economy in game form? Although Elite: Dangerous may never attain the lofty economic heights of Eve Online as the game is still under development (but eager space traders can buy into the beta program now), it is again heartening to see such free market principles at the core of the experience. Indeed, this game owes its very existence to capitalism, as Elite: Dangerous was the beneficiary of a crowd-sourced funding effort that reached the sizable sum of 1.7 million pounds (around $2.8 million dollars). That’s gamers using capitalism to finance a game about space capitalism. How appropriate.

 Read the rest at Liberty Island here.

image illustration via shutterstock / Mari Carmen G. Dugo

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The 10 Most Memorable James Bond Henchmen

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

A good rogues gallery features villains which present corrupted aspects of the hero’s persona. The Riddler challenges Batman’s intellect, while the Joker tests the limits of his morality.

James Bond has accumulated quite a rogues gallery over several decades and 23 feature films. In Bond’s world, we have both masterminds and henchmen. In many cases, the lackeys prove more colorful. Here are the 10 most memorable James Bond henchmen.

#10. Bambi and Thumper

After leaving the series over differences with the producers, Sean Connery returned for one more installment in Diamonds Are Forever. This immediate precursor to the Roger Moore era telescoped the trend of themed henchmen, referencing pop culture or building upon puns.

Bambi and Thumper were twin acrobatic femme fatales, featured briefly in a memorable melee with 007. Hardly the first or last female killers in Bond’s orbit, these two were the first to fight as a pair.

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15 Songs Millennials Must Listen to in Order to Understand the 1980s

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

You’ve seen Thriller and heard all about Madonna, but what do you really know about the decade that ushered in the millennial generation? Think the era of scrunchies, boom boxes, pump sneakers and DeLoreans was just a fad? Think again. Some of the 1990s’ greatest pop culture trends were birthed in the millieu of Reaganomics, cable television, and a music video-loaded MTV.

15. Culture Club – “Karma Chameleon”

The ’80s was the decade of John Waters, the B-52s and all things camp coming to fruition. Decked out in eyeliner, lipstick and braids, Boy George popularized the aesthetic of this gay subculture with a poppy little tune about conflicted relationships. As for the music video, where better to set a gay guy’s love song in the ’80s than an 1870s riverboat called the “Chameleon” where a cheating gambler’s karma comes back to haunt him? Dude, it’s the ’80s: “Don’t ask, don’t tell” started here.

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The Top 10 Things Lucas Got Right in the Star Wars Prequels

Monday, September 15th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

Having composed a list of reasons the Star Wars prequels sucked, it only makes sense to bring balance to the Force by considering the noteworthy ways in which these millennial films added to the saga’s greatness. I have to admit, it was a lot tougher coming up with things to like about Episodes I through III than it was to throw stones at them. Even so, whether you love the prequels or hate them, they’ve undeniably expanded that galaxy far, far away. Here’s the top 10 things George Lucas got right.

10. Kashyyyk

Lucas defied the Expanded Universe of books, comics, and games in a number of ways when the time came to bring Star Wars back to the big screen. The Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk had been the setting for many adventures authored since Return of the Jedi. It was described as a dense forest world with massive redwood-like trunks supporting cities suspended hundreds of meters above the ground. The forest floor, known as the Shadowlands, was home to Kashyyyk’s most vicious wildlife.

It was therefore deviant for Lucas to set Revenge of the Sith’s Battle of Kashyyyk on a beach. Even so, the world’s time on screen does justice to its mighty inhabitants, making Endor look like a city park by comparison.

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15 Great Lists Debating Comic Books and Pop Culture by Pierre Comtois

Saturday, September 13th, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

This summer Pierre Comtois, a nonfiction author with several books on comics and culture and a novelist for Liberty Island, began a series of articles exploring the comic book world. (See an interview with him here about his influences and goals.) After a really strong run with comics he’s going to start exploring more subjects across pop culture in the coming weeks.

Do you disagree with any of Pierre’s comics conclusions? Do you have counter-lists to his choices? Or perhaps you have suggestions for subjects you’d like to se him write about in the future. Please get in touch with me at DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com to build on the foundation Pierre built and carry on the comic book conversation. With Pierre focusing on cracking open the discussion on other subjects now more voices analyzing the medium’s past, present, and future would be appreciated.

  1. The 10 Lowest Points in Spider-Man’s Career
  2. 10 Heroes and Villains Not Yet Featured in an X-Men Movie But Who Should Be
  3. The 10 Greatest Comic Book Writers Of All Time
  4. The 10 Most Interesting Super-Hero Alter Egos
  5. The Top 10 Best Super-Heroes Of All Time!
  6. The Top 10 Most Overrated Super-Heroes Of All Time
  7. The 10 Most Successful and Controversial Comic Book Publicity Stunts
  8. 10 Reasons Why Howard the Duck Is Poised for a Comeback
  9. Top 10 Most Influential Comics of the 1980s
  10. The 10 Best Super-Heroines in Comics
  11. The Top 10 Most Evil Comic Book Villains
  12. The Top 10 Most Disturbing Moments in Comics

Three Lists on More Pop Culture Subjects

  1. 10 Too Close for Comfort Similarities Between Harry Potter and the X-Men
  2. The 10 Most Underrated Classic Science Fiction Films
  3. The 10 Best Fantasy Novels and Series of All Time

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The Top 10 Most Worthy Bond Villains

Monday, September 1st, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

james_bond_villains

A hero proves only as remarkable as the obstacle he overcomes. The challenge with a character like James Bond is developing adversaries who can conceivably defeat him. If we don’t believe that Bond might fail, or accept a given foe as Bond’s potential match, then his eventual victory falls flat.

Over the course of 23 films spanning nearly five decades, Bond has encountered a wide variety of adversaries. Today we focus on the masterminds, the ultimate villains who hatched fiendish plans and expected Mr. Bond to die. A future list will rank the best and worst henchmen of the franchise, many of whom upstage their bosses. For now, here are the top 10 most worthy James Bond villains.

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The Top 10 Reasons Why the Star Wars Prequels Sucked

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

prequels

It’s with no small amount of irony that I, of all people, compose this list of hate against George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy. During their production, as each released, and in the years since, I have been quite the prequel apologist. There are several aspects of the films which deliver, and perhaps that will make for a follow-up to this list in the near feature. However, with the knowledge that six new Star Wars films are coming in as many years, and seeing how Disney has thus far chosen to treat the property, the flaws of the prequel trilogy seem more relevant than ever.

On the one hand, these criticisms serve as warnings for J.J. Abrams and the rest of the creative team working on Episode VII, the film which will set the tone for those to follow. On the other hand, it’s a testament to the enduring legacy of the Star Wars brand that the franchise may yet flourish despite these missteps.

Here are the top 10 reasons the Star Wars prequels sucked:

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The Practical Side of Star Wars

Thursday, August 21st, 2014 - by Stephen Green

PRACTICAL

Most encouraging Star Wars news I’ve read since George Lucas sold his franchise:

As if videos from the set of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars movie featuring live-action alien costumes and full-scale X-Wing Fighters haven’t been enough of a clue, Rian Johnson, who will pick up the franchise after Abrams, says Star Wars: Episode VII will feature more practical, traditional effects.

“They’re doing so much practical building for this one. It’s awesome,” Johnson said on the latest Girls in Hoodies podcast. “I think people are coming back around to [practical effects]. It feels like there is sort of that gravity pulling us back toward it. I think that more and more people are hitting kind of a critical mass in terms of the CG-driven action scene lending itself to a very specific type of action scene, where physics go out the window and it becomes so big so quick.”

This goes right back to a conversation we had in this space just last May:

Up until, and I guess including Jurassic Park, Hollywood could drop our jaws with only the special effects. Something really new might come along every once in a great while like the wire work from The Matrix, but once the computers took over we became jaded pretty quickly. We used to marvel at practical special effects, because some smart and talented people had to figure out a means to make something jaw-dropping happen, really happen, in front of a camera. Now the computer artists just draw it, if you’ll allow me to oversimplify the amazing work that they can do. But we’ll never again wonder, “How did they do that?”

Maybe Star Wars will bring back some of the wonder.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

thumbnail image via showatcher.com

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11 Lessons About Religion I’ve Learned from Pop Culture Polytheism

Sunday, August 17th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

11. A conscious awareness of God is intrinsic to human nature.

Tara Brach recently told the story of a four year old who was excited to have alone time with his new baby sister. When he finally got to the side of her crib, he asked her, “Tell me what heaven is like. I’m starting to forget.” If we didn’t have a conscious awareness of God, we wouldn’t be striving so hard to find Him in everything from houses of worship to fictional characters on the big screen. Don’t let atheists fool you; they might not believe in a God in the sky, but they’re worshiping something, nevertheless, whether its money, power, or simply themselves.

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The 10 Best Fantasy Novels and Series of All Time

Saturday, August 16th, 2014 - by Pierre Comtois

With the few remaining store shelves groaning under the weight of fantasy series whose authors must crank them out with the regularity and efficiency of a printing press (and with the same lack of originality), not much room is left for preserving the classics of the genre. Over the last several decades, fantasy has gone from a niche market to mass acceptance, and with the success of such series as Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, it’s also gone mainstream. Unfortunately, interest in those series hasn’t translated to interest in other fantasy worlds. Potter and Thrones have their fans but those fans seem to be parochial in their tastes, refusing to explore beyond the walls of Hogwarts or come out from behind the Iron Throne.

But fantasy is about more than dragons, swords, spells, and now sex. It’s also about the craft of writing and somehow capturing a sense of wonder and of faraway lands and climes that readers may not even be aware that they’re yearning to experience. It’s that deep, unsuspected tugging against the bonds of the here and now that the best works of fantasy create. And (dare I say it?) once upon a time writers did succeed in doing that when fantasy written for the older person (as opposed to children) was somewhat rare in a late nineteenth and early twentieth century era of limited media coverage and that frowned upon the man or woman who refused to let go of what were considered childish things.

However, those childish things began as somewhat serious tales told around Grecian campfires before they metamorphosed into mythology. But what is understood as modern fantasy, that is, fantastic stories meant for entertainment and that no one is expected to actually believe, began in the nineteenth century when authors such as William Morris and George MacDonald formalized the genre. It was they who took elements of myth and folklore and transformed them into extended-length novels that could be enjoyed by both children and adults. And through their skill with the written word they molded individual statements on the fantastic, creating worlds that spoke to the human heart in voices with which readers could identify.

In those worlds, combat and strife were often relegated to the background or were non-existent, and though there could be magic, it was limited. Most important to these authors was the human element, often expressed in the form of a quest which was actually a search for love, wisdom, or understanding — elements that will largely be the criteria upon which the following top 10 fantasy novels and series have been judged.

(Note: many of the books listed here have been reprinted as paperbacks in the late 1960s/early 1970s Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series and are still available at decent prices.)

Deryni_rising_firstDeryni_checkmate_firsthigh deryni

10. The Chronicles of the Deryni

The only “modern” fantasy on this list, Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni Chronicles antedates such newer fantasies as Game of Thrones with their palace intrigues and veiled diplomacies. Published in 1970, Deryni Rising was the first of a long series of books (usually written in threes) chronicling the history of the kingdom of Gwynedd, a medieval land roughly akin to Great Britain. There, two-faced diplomacy, palace intrigue, arranged marriages, warfare and the occasional regicide are further complicated by the existence of a race known as the Deryni. Possessed of various powers from mind reading to psychic healing, the Deryni were once powers in the land until the Church and its secular allies declared them tools of the devil. They are driven underground, and most of the series is about the Derynis’ struggle to survive and regain their legitimacy. It is told in a straightforward, extremely detailed, but engaging style. The Chronicles of the Deryni is likely the most fully realized, convincing fantasy world created in the modern era.

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The 10 Most Important Life Lessons I Learned from Mork from Ork

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

As a Gen-X/millennial crossover, I was fortunate enough to first meet Robin Williams as Mork from Ork on the sitcom Mork and Mindy. A comedic powerhouse, Mork’s colorful wardrobe and loud laugh were the first things I imitated as a child. As I grew up, I would look back and realize the many character lessons I learned at home were reinforced by a supremely acted alien outsider with a predilection for sitting on his head. In virtually every role he played, Robin Williams taught his audience a life lesson. As a young kid there was no one more fun to hang around with and learn from on TV than Mork from Ork.

10. Old people rule.

Mork marvels at the way the elderly are ignored and maligned on earth. On Ork, old folks are revered as the wise, experienced ones to learn from. “The Elder” is called on to remind Mork of his Orkishness. His was an early lesson in the importance of respect and reverence for the elders in your life and how very important all people are, no matter and, perhaps, especially because of their age.

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The 5 Greatest Things About Sharknado 2: The Second One

Thursday, July 31st, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

I watched the universal premiere of Sharkado 2: The Second One on SyFy Wednesday night.

Don’t judge, especially if you watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians or Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Or any of those bachelor, bachelorette or dating shows. Or any reality TV, really. You’re in no position to judge anything that anyone else watches.

S2TS1 might not be the greatest movie ever. It might even be two hours of my life that to my regret I’ll never get back. If SyFy follows its usual pattern, even if you missed the premiere you still have 17 trillion chances to see it. SyFy will air the thing on a loop until the end of all time and space, when the Big Bang falls into a Big Crunch and we start all over again.

When you watch Sharknado 2, and you inevitably will, here are the five greatest things to look out for in S2TS1.

1. S2TS1 wastes absolutely no time on story.

Literally seconds into the film, star Ian Ziering (whose character’s name is still “Fin”) sees a shark in a cloud backlit by lightning. What follows is a fun riff on the old Twilight Zone episode in which a young William Shatner sees a gremlin on the wing of an airliner, but nobody believes him. Ziering has his own Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, then, because of all the sharks, has to reprise Robert Hayes’ role in Airplane! I’m not even kidding.

SPOILER ALERT: New York’s anti-gun policies end up helping the sharks. But as they say, only criminals have guns under strict gun control. That turns out to be a minor side plot in S2TS1. I’m not kidding.

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The 10 Most Hilarious Epic Rap Battles of History

Monday, July 28th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

Note: Some of the videos on this list are not safe for work.

Fresh off the conclusion of its third “season,” the ongoing YouTube production of Epic Rap Battles of History has established itself as an online phenomenon. What began as a clever collaboration between two musically inclined friends has ballooned into a prime example of how to produce viral videos. YouTubers Nice Peter and Epic Lloyd have created an interactive platform which has attracted the participation of fellow YouTube celebrities and even some mainstream stars. It’s been so successful that they were tapped to market the latest Assassin’s Creed video game and promote hit AMC television shows. They even got to meet with the president.

If you haven’t come across Epic Rap Battles of History before, here’s your chance to check them out. Personalities from pop culture, politics, and history collide in rhythmic battles to boast and belittle. The results are often hilarious. Here’s the Top 10 Epic Rap Battles of History.

#10. Moses vs Santa Claus

This had to be a big moment for Nice Peter and Epic Lloyd. Having Snoop Dogg (or Lion, or whatever he’s calling himself these days) featured in an epic rap battle lends a legitimacy which could not be acquired in any other way. He steps naturally into familiar territory. It would have been easy to let his presence overwhelm the project, but this back and forth between Moses and Santa Claus delivers enough laughs from each to succeed on its own merit.

Verdict: Moses

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The Top 10 Gods of the Pop Culture Pantheon

Sunday, July 27th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Whether you’re seeking salvation or inner peace, a god to worship or add to your home-made altar, the pop culture pantheon is at your disposal so that you may pick and choose the gods and tools of worship to service your every emotional, spiritual, and even material need.

10. Harry Potter

When they aren’t re-reading their holy texts, Potterheads commune at MuggleNet to chat about their god, study their faith and perform the usual acts of tithing. According to the Facebook page “Being a POTTERHEAD” (which is classified as a non-profit organization),

Harry Potter has reached out to 200 countries, spoke out in 69 languages, and has touched the lives of 400 million people. It is the phenomenon that ignores race, age, gender and religion and has brought us all together despite our differences.

Also known as Potterholics, Potterites and Pottermaniacs, Potterheads should never be confused with potheads as their allegiance is strictly Wizard, not weed.

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