Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fortress of Nerditude Part 2 - The difference between boys and girls and their toys...

One aspect of the M/F dynamic that I did not encounter until I was engaged, nor did I fully realize it's permeation into society until I was deep into my 3rd or 4th year of marriage, was the inherent proclivity of women to disregard the tastes of their men as puerile or socially unfit. Case in point: Take any show where example couple is buying/renting/remodeling their first condo/home. Invariably, regardless of the age of the relationship, most especially if the male has been any kind of committed bachelor, geek or sports fan, it is the primary goal of the female to subsume his decor tastes in favor of her own.

By this I mean gone is the leather couch, the plasma TV, the neon beer signs. Anything the male may regard as valued, sentimental, or personal is often relegated to a) a basement storage area, b) an as-yet-undefined man cave or garage or c) the worst, sell it on eBay or in a rummage sale so she can buy that bronze lion statue that will just perfectly tie the living room together--no the other living room just for show that you can't ever walk or eat or do anything in forever. It's like a perfectly designed dust collecting display. Regardless of how annoying chintz or pastels may be to pretty much, oh, everyone, the cardinal rule is Thou shalt not question the design tastes of thy mate. They don't build Crate and Barrel or Pottery Barn stores because they have amazing Star Wars action figure inventories. Garden Ridge may sell prints with football themes on them, but it's gonna cost you $120 to get it matted and framed before it ever sees a perfectly aligned nail on a wall. This also assumes it goes with the color scheme of the room in question.

There are exceptions, however. A friend of a friend married a fellow lady geek, and she is as concerned about placing their lightsaber replicas in the main sitting area as he is. Their collection of mint-on-card action figures has as prominent a display in their home as baby pictures. Ditto for the younger gothy couples who might prefer Edward Gorey (or one of those insufferably trite Nightmare Before Christmas) prints over Ansel Adams in their foyer. I get away with it to a degree when decorating the rooms of my boys, since one of them shares my love of comic book superheroes, but 99.99999% of what makes my home livable for me goes straight to my basement nerd cave.

My dad did stake his claim back in the day. A mallard duck print here. A mounted largemouth bass there. Even his Carhart overalls hanging in the door frame was a statement that said a workin' man lives here. I don't see this as bitterness, or a yearning for having my say in the design and layout of the home. I KNOW my stuff is nerdy and off-the-wall and in some cases, possibly offensive to the few visitors we happen to get. I know that a photo of a scantily clad model belongs above dad's workbench in the garage rather than a place of prominence above the loveseat where my grandparents may be sitting. It's not even that I would want to complain too much, because the wife and I oddly share a sense of synergy with the decor. While I may be an OCD nut in my office--Green Lantern on one wall, Todd Lockwood dragon poster on another, both mixed in with a variety of comics, cute ladies and fantasy map art--we tend to be minimalists overall. Like any good scientist deciphering the societal and artistic mores of an alien culture, the little differences amaze me. To paraphrase George Carlin, what is the dividing line that makes my stuff "shit" and her shit, "stuff"?

I present another example. I have, via air-pull, approximately 400 DVDs. Many of these are in album booklets, but over 200 are store-bought, hardshell cased videos. They are segregated to a degree: Her movies in the living room, mine in the nerd cave on three bookshelves, one entertainment center and one closed-door cabinet. She has about 150-200 pairs of shoes. Some of these vary only in color and are otherwise structurally and functionally identical. These are disseminated in one main hallway shoe cabinet, one giant box in a main floor closet, and various pairs in her master bedroom closet. On any given day she has 10 pairs of shoes loose on the kitchen floor, usually kicked into a pile by me or the boys after a near tripping incident. Given that I have two LCD monitors on my desk and a TV in my office, I could potentially watch three DVDs at the same time; more often than not I am watching two anyway; one on the PC and another on the TV. She can only wear one pair of shoes at a time. A box of DVDs also doesn't smell like feet unless you've kept them in really weird places. Regardless, this is in some circles a perfectly acceptable situation; shoes, purses, hair and other accoutrements make the lady, whereas my indulgence is an entertainment affectation.

I know in the end this is picking nits, and I of all people should not ascribe the details of a few heavily edited TV shows to the overall relationship dynamics of men and women, but I have enough empirical data to demonstrate it's real. It's a value judgment at it's most basic, one that says "my sense of taste supersedes yours for some reason," or my toys are more practical/aesthetically pleasing. My take is that the men may take more of an interest if the communal household reflected an agreed upon sense of taste and decor and importance rather than implying all of the gentleman's items need to be sequestered away for the good of humanity and Emily Post. The overall purpose of a Mikasa crystal swan vs a Lego TIE Fighter remains the same: Bric-a-Brac. The only difference is I can pretend to shoot down Rebel X-Wing scum with one, and the other I can just flash in the sunlight to make rainbows.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Funny if you're a scientist (and a geek)...

The Periodic Table of Awesome. It amuses me. The only question I have is whether the "Ghost" in the noble races refers to ectoplasmic entities or the covert ops trooper from StarCraft?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

In brightest day?

OK, so thems who know me understand that I am a Johnny Storm-come-lately comic book nerd. I first discovered Superman/Batman in 2002 during a trip to Mall of America; a trade paperback collecting the first 8 issues and I never looked back. After that, having been a Spidey fan from way back (even that hokey live-action Nicolas Hammond monstrosity from the 70s which we won't go into here--as Stan Lee often remarked, "'Nuff said!"), I discovered the trade paperbacks* of J. Michael Straczynski's run of Amazing Spider-Man (ASM). For thems who don't know, JMS created the Babylon 5 series from scratch, and despite my not being a huge fan of it, managed to invent continuity all the way through seven seasons and 4 tv movies that didn't really suck. Many writers of tv, film, and novels have either come from, returned to, or vow never again to work in the comic book industry, and JMS was no exception. Although I will save my "WTF did Marvel do to Spider-Man" rant for a later time, let me say in short that I loved ASM because JMS made him an adult with adult problems, not the always geeky teenager who had to invent webbing in between 4th period gym and 5th period study hall.

Following my immersion in the trades, two local comic book stores popped up, and like any good crackhead, I was addicted. I realized several months and 12 short boxes later that comics are EXPENSIVE and it's not the collector profitable industry it was back in the day. Unless you attend numerous comic conventions or happen to live in a huge metro area that carries copies of the truly rare variants**, your simple issue #1 of Deadpool isn't going to net you much profit (CGC is an option for many, but again, pricey in the extreme). Out of the deluge of comics and almost 20 months of collecting, I managed to net several favorites, one of which I will expand upon here. Other collections may be mentioned in later posts only because I feel they deserve mentioning. To wit:

Superman: Includes both the actual named title, the Action comics original title from the 30s, the Superman/Batman series and various other spinoffs including the recent "World of New Krypton" series.

Spider-Man: Amazing and Ultimate are the only ones in production now, with an occasional mini-series here and there. Although I have not read the Ultimate series, I am told the continuity and characterization were better presented and preserved

Deadpool: I am a late-fan of this "merc with a mouth", who to me adds a much needed sense of humor to an otherwise often hilarity-dense medium. With his new series in 2008 on the heels of Marvel's Secret Invasion saga, I've become a huge fan. Although he's been getting what experts call the Wolverine Overexposure Treatment (Wolverine is currently the most popular series in print today, and at any given time there are 5-10 INDEPENDENT book series running with our favorite adamantium Canuck--how people can invent/reinvent/spin-off a relatively linear character is beyond me), I find I can't get enough.

Green Lantern/Green Lantern Corps: A two-fer series in print now, and the overall subject of the blog today (took me long enough, didn't it?). At it's most basic, the GL/GLC series concerns an intergalactic police force (corps) commanded by a group of immortal, nearly omnipotent beings, the Guardians of the Universe. The Lanterns exercise their authority through the use of Power Rings, which in this case is driven entirely by their will (characterized by the color green) and powered for a finite period through the primary battery on the Guardian homeworld, Oa.

Now, taken in stride, each sector of the Universe is patrolled by two Lanterns, chosen by the Guardians (and to an extent through the planet-sized Lantern, Mogo) for their ability to withstand, overcome or disavow fear (embodied by the color yellow). Obviously the idea of policement wearing greenish/black/white uniforms and controlling hard light constructs based on a ring exercising an extension of their innate willpower seems a bit silly, but this is a comic. In various adventures, common plot devices ensue, mainly that which separates the Lantern from his ring (which leaves him mostly powerless), depletes the energy of the ring or somehow corrupts the mind/will of the Lantern, making use of the ring difficult or impossible.

The main protagonist of the Lantern series has been for the most part, the human Hal Jordan. A test pilot who saw his father die in a plane crash, Jordan became THE Lantern by which all others were judged, but eventually due to a horrible tragedy, the loss of his family and hence his entire city drove him insane. Possessed by an entity called Parallax (which happened to BE the source of the yellow fear energy) he proceeded to slaughter the entire Lantern Corps and most of the Guardians. This was later revised, Jordan was restored to his former glory and the Corps was resurrected, mainly through the actions of another human, Kyle Rayner, who became Ion, the living vessel of the eponymously named green energy entity that competed with the Parallax creature.

Enter into this Sinestro, arguably the most powerful Lantern prior to Jordan, who due to his own sense of superiority and desire for order was cast out of the Corps (and indeed the matter Universe), became a possessor of the Yellow Power Ring and eventually his own "Sinestro Corps." Recruiting agents capable of generating great fear in response to the Lantern goal to resist it, 2007-2008 was the year of the Sinestro Corps War. Geoff Johns who wrote the saga concluded it with the capture of Sinestro, the 'corrupting' of a Guardian and the discovery of other "Lanterns" embodying different colors relevant to the emotions of the universe (orange for greed, red for hatred, violet for love, etc.).

Now enters in the Black Lantern Saga, wherein the corrupted Guardian "Scar" has created a new faction, powered by a black light energy, which essentially resurrects the dead to feed on the living. Lantern Zombies if you will. Now, for most of us, the cliched yet still appealing concept of the walking dead may seem weird but this has a new spin on it, mainly due to the fact that those killed by Black Lanterns can in turn BECOME recruits themselves. This isn't possible for the other colors, since dead to them is essentially dead. Thus, the Black Lanterns have the capability of recruiting the dead from many other Lantern Corps into their ranks, leading into what is being termed "The Blackest Night" and armageddon for the Universe; life becomes death, light becomes dark, and so on.

The interesting twist to this is that there have been MANY poignant deaths in the DC universe, some quite recently in the Final Crisis saga, and it is the herald of the Black Lanterns--the longtime Green Lantern villain, Black Hand--who seeks out these dead to recruit. So far we've noted a few surprising members: The Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man, and (possibly) Batman, but time will tell. Stretching into next year, this looks to be an amazing ride. The Green Lantern series has become one of my favorites over the past few years, if not one of the more graphic series in play (Black Lanterns recharge their rings not through a battery but from the ripped out hearts of living beings--soul power, if you will) and I am curious to see how it all ties in. Johns was quite successful with his treatments to date, and it remains to be seen how Hal Jordan (who now has been a Red, Orange and Blue Lantern) fits into it all.

I just hope it doesn't have a Dean Koontz ending(1)...

(1): Named for the famous horror author, in which a story spanning several hundred pages is neatly tied up in the last 5-10 pages...the literary equivalent of making love to a beautiful woman and just as you're about to climax, she pulls you out and strokes you to completion into a Kleenex.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fortress of Nerditude Part 1 - The Gender Female

One could say the reams of data on how nerds (geeks, dweebs, dorks, gamers, etc.) interact with the rest of society are underrepresented in print. On one hand you have the sympathetic girlfriend/wife who not only tolerates your nerdity but celebrates it, but these women are as rare as hen's teeth or a flawless diamond. They don't remain single for long, and their overall rate of production and procurement in newer generations is hampered by age of consent laws and travel restrictions. This assumes you're not a bitter, despondent nerd who adheres to Ladder Theory, but let's assume optimism. After all, there's someone for everyone, even if you need a +3 Pickaxe of Thunder to find them.

On the other hand, you have the women who fall somewhere between the innocent bystander and the gamer widow. They knew you were a nerd, but until they beheld the sheer majesty of your Lego Star Wars collection or expansive DVD collection (or happen upon the one not fit for public display) Alice had no idea how deep the rabbit hole went. The responses range from begrudging acceptance (surely I can learn to like/tolerate this), insensitive antipathy (he makes good money and is good to me, so let the dork have his stupid 'wizardry'), the sad epiphany (I cannot continue being around someone who loves his square-headed girl/boyfriend more than me) and finally, abject terror (run, do not walk away from this Asperger-wanna-be pervert).

Despite a lack of empirical data, I would like to propose a Gaussian distribution because I do believe many significant others lie somewhere in the median. As the article states, one person's football widow is another one's World of Warcraft widow. One is just more socially acceptable, more widely distributed and (depending on the degree of fanaticism), somewhat less expensive-- unless season tickets to the Rams appeal to your particular nerd.

At times, the befuddled LOON (Lover Of Our Nerd, to keep it simple) may attempt to integrate themself into the nerd's worldview. It happened to me in 2001 in the last half of Star Trek Voyager's Season 7. The wife wanted to know why I liked the show, so after several hours of patient backstory and watching tapes to fill her in with the gaps, we arrived at the coda of the series, wherein the resident ex-Borg drone Seven of Nine (played surprisingly well by Jeri Ryan) was slowly seduced by the 'humanity' of one Chakotay, the First Officer and Hispanic-playing-Native-American actor Robert Beltran. Rumors abounded for months regarding his distaste for the part, his lackluster scripts (all the Chakotay episodes sucked for the most part), so many fans felt that giving him the role of Seven's love interest was Paramount throwing him a bone to stop a last-minute Tasha Yar-style bailout.

Regardless, my wife oddly began to identify with Seven, and while she was certainly endowed in the bosom department, her stark lack of blonde bun and Borg implants made the correlation a tad bit difficult. I was...patient. She genuinely seemed to be getting into the storyline, sans any focus on the lack of (cough) science fiction elements. You could have knocked me over with a feather when in the last episodes (SPOILERS AHEAD), we learn that not only do the two crewmates fall in love, but in an alternate future where Seven has died, Chakotay dies of a broken heart after they reach home, prompting a then-somber Admiral Janeway to go back and "put right what once was wrong".

My wife is suddenly on her feet, MAD. It was the sum of all the anger and hate, as if Martha Stewart suddenly stopped in the middle of her show, said she was outing herself as a lesbian and hated every aspect of home interiors, cooking and people in general; one can imagine the sound heard thereafter was that of a million housewives crying out in fury. It was a cloud of dismay that could make Satan pee himself. I mean, how DARE they, Seven is better than that! She shouldn't fall for him just because he tickled her ocular implant with his dry wit and obnoxious facial tattoo!

Sitting there, surprised at her displeasure, realizing that this is what happens when the wrong soap opera character gets killed off, I said the words to her that I never thought I would ever utter as a nerd: It's just a TV show. Even the Next Generation episode, "Genesis", the one that took a massive, Apatosaurus-sized shit all over modern molecular biology didn't perturb me that much, I guess in hindsight because I knew what to expect. It kinda scared me, too. Would such a thing happen if I exposed her to Next Generation? Dr Who? Drizzt Do'Urden? I could be the only human being ever to be murdered by a dice bag if I wasn't careful.

In Part 2 of "The Gender Female," we will examine various aspects of nerd life and why it's our world, she just lives in it (pending a DC 20 Fortitude saving throw)...

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