Spider-Man: Homecoming

Holy crap… holy crap… holy crap, you guys, holy crap.

Okay, sorry. I swear I’ll try to make this as objective and non-fanboy-gushy as possible, but… holy crap.

spidey man raaz9d

I’ve probably made my views on Spider-Man pretty clear in the past. Though, honestly, I’m kind of surprised at some of the things I said last time I wrote on this topic. For one, I can’t believe I ever said that Amazing Spider-Man 2 was better than the first one. For two, I can’t believe I ever said it was good at all.

I certainly enjoyed it when I saw it, but my opinion of it has not improved in time. There’s a lot of reasons for that. This video does a great job of explaining its flaws. It’s not that it doesn’t good have moments. It’s that it doesn’t have many of them… and they’re overshadowed by the barely competent storytelling.

Given this, I can honestly say I wasn’t actually that interested in seeing Homecoming at first. We’d had a great run, Spidey and me, but it’d been three straight lackluster films since our peak. I’d started to wonder if we could ever rekindle that old flame.

And then I saw this. And thank goodness I did. (Side note: is it weird that Holland lip syncing to a Rhianna song did more to sell me on this movie than all the ad campaigns in the world?)

But even with my lowered expectations, objectively this movie was probably only good, not great. Jon Watts has directed only two other films, neither a big, summer blockbuster. While I’m definitely excited to see what he does from here, there’s still a learning curve to directing. For every scene that I liked, there was probably one that I thought was mishandled; for each shot that honestly gave me chills, another took me out of the movie.

The best comparison (that probably won’t win me any new friends) for me is probably last February’s Get Out. Another movie by a very promising director, and a movie that excites me not so much for what it is, but for what I hope it represents, and how I hope it can be influential.

I’d started losing interest in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe around 2015, when Age of Ultron ended up being dumb and pointless. But what really killed it for me was Captain America: Civil War, which was almost all civility and basically no war. So much hype and so many promises that this would be the film that changed the MCU forever amounted to a 20-minute fistfight. We did see the dissolution of the Avengers… but only if you ignore that Cap gives Tony a special cell phone and promises help whenever it’s needed.

Kind of like how S.H.I.E.L.D. was totally dismantled at the end of Winter Soldier. Even though the Avengers still operate exactly like they did before this. Hell, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is even still airing, three years later (I think they did make major changes to the show so it makes sense, but I don’t watch).

At this point, the entire MCU has devolved into a… really violent version of Full House. It might occasionally feel like something major happened in the episode you’re watching, but if the status quo hasn’t returned by the end, it will before the next one starts.

On top of that, like a ’90s sitcom stretching into too many seasons, everything just feels so… tired. Every plot has a factory-line deadness to it. The dialogue, especially the humor, which once had a level of charm has been reduced to nuts-and-bolts writing. Set up. Punchline. Pause for laughter.

After Civil War, I couldn’t take it any more. I was done. I swore, I would never pay another dime to see a film in the bloated and wasteful MCU.

But sometimes, when you feel you’ve lost all hope, you gotta go back to where it all started.

Despite its flaws, one of the undeniable strengths of Homecoming is how refreshingly organic it all feels. There’s a genuine interest in telling this story, not just setting up future sequels. Better still, there’s no detached “We’re fighting an army of robots. And I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense” irony.

In one scene, just before attempting an impossibly difficult stunt, Spidey takes a moment to catch his breath, collect himself, and express his fear of dying. It’s such a small moment. And yet, it’s hard to believe how big impact it can have on the film.

If a character is never concerned with his own mortality, how can I possibly be? And if I never worry that he might fail, how can there ever be any stakes? Small moments like this make or break movies, even if we don’t consciously notice them while watching.

But beyond all of this, the single greatest part of Spider-Man: Homecoming is the Vulture. Not because he’s compelling or Michael Keaton gives a great performance. He is, and he does, but there’s a much more important reason: He’s relatable. A far cry from an irredeemable monster like Ultron or the brainwashed Winter Soldier, he has a (mostly) unselfish, understandable motivation. In different circumstances (and, well, if we lived in a universe were magic aliens existed), I could easily see myself becoming someone like him.

And that’s important for a number of reasons.

A friend of mine recently wrote a really thoughtful post skewering the thinking endemic to our society that encourages us to label people as “good” and “bad.” If you’re not on my side, the thinking goes, then you’re just an evil person. Therefore, I don’t need to understand how people can disagree with me. Why should I bother, when punching is better than talking?

On top of this, a culture is always, always entwined with the stories it tells. Our stories impact our culture. Our culture influences our stories. If all the notable stories we tell promote the idea that people we may see as enemies are soulless, interchangeable robots, what kind of culture does that create?

How can a country survive as it tears itself apart at the seams?

There have always been dumb action movies. There’s always been movies with overly simple views of the world. That hasn’t changed, and probably never will. What has changed is that now we’re told to take those movies seriously. Movies like this were once considered two hours of mindless escapism. Now they’re a lifestyle. We spend years anticipating the next big Marvel crossover. In the meantime, we gotta keep up with all the movies in-between (and don’t forget about their TV shows!). You don’t want to miss all the in-jokes and subtle references! Staying current with Marvel’s universe has become a full-time job.

In Spider-Man: Homecoming, I think, we finally something worthy of our time and attention. It won’t change the world, or even the movie universe, on its own. But I hope it can be a start.

Because, seriously, I am done with the rest of the MCU.

Well, except for Blank Panther, obviously. That movie looks awesome. And I might as well go see Avengers: Infinity War. I mean, I’ve already invested this much time.

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The Greatest of These: Loving Fallaciously

I’ve mentioned before that I teach at an online high school. Each year, my school has a number of graduation ceremonies (that number being 3), with a different speaker for each. This year I was very honored to be asked to deliver the commencement address at one of them. I felt that my speech is one of the best things I’ve written, so I decided it was worth sharing here, as well.

Also I’m kind of lazy and don’t like writing more than one thing per month.

Also also, if you want to watch me deliver the speech, you can do so here (start at around the 10-minute mark): https://livestream.com/dordtcollegewebcast/AlphaOmegaGraduation2017/videos/157039578. So far several people have told me I did a great job and one person told me I should take a speech course. Who’s right? You decide!


I’d like to start by saying congratulations to everyone in the class of 2017! Your accomplishment, which we celebrate today, is by no means a small one, either personally or as a cultural milestone. I hope you all get the chance today to enjoy this moment.

When our principal, Mr. Bakker, asked me to speak to the graduates at this ceremony, I was initially both honored and intimidated, and I wasn’t really sure what I had to say. I took some time to think it over, and I looked at some other graduation speeches. And I noticed a pattern: they usually began with a quote from a famous book or story, and ended with a charge to the graduates. And I think I found a way to work that to my own ends. But buckle up because we’re going to start in a bit of an odd place.

First the quote:

“Cool was I and logical. Keen, calculating, perspicacious, acute and astute—I was all of these. My brain was as powerful as a dynamo, precise as a chemist’s scales, as penetrating as a scalpel. And—think of it!—I only eighteen.”

While this may sound like something I found in one of my journal entries from my high school graduation, this actually comes from the short story “Love is a Fallacy” by Max Shulman. My guess is this may strike most people as an odd choice. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that, unless you read this story in your Short Story project your freshman year, or attended the online class I’ve taught on logical fallacies, you probably have never heard of the story or its author. If you did one or both of those, you may already be sick of both the story and its author. To anyone this describes, I apologize, but just a little.

Shulman’s story relates the plight of his narrator, who, as you can tell from the previous quote, fancies himself one of the great minds of his generation. At the start of the story, he’s determined that the only thing he needs in order to guarantee himself a successful future as a lawyer is the perfect wife. Someone who can be, as he says, “a proper hostess for [his] many mansions, [and] a suitable mother for [his] well-heeled children.”

As luck would have it, such a woman attends the narrator’s exact college, and just happens to be dating his roommate, Petey. Petey agrees to stop seeing Polly, the girl in question, in exchange for the narrator’s giving him a raccoon coat. The story takes place in the 1950s, and our characters inform us that raccoon coats had again become a massive fad. “Fads,” the narrator tells us, “are the very negation of reason.” I would submit that this is doubly true when the fad involves raccoons, but I suppose that’s personal preference.

With Petey out of the way, the narrator and Polly go on several casual dates. He gives her a course in logic, feeling he needs to make her more intelligent before she’ll be “worthy” of him. By the last scene, he’s deemed his task complete and asks Polly if she will “go steady” with him. But she refuses.

She had already agreed to go steady with Petey. He, at least, has a raccoon coat.

Again, it’s an odd story. Not particularly well-known, by an author who’s not particularly well-remembered. And yet, I chose it because it’s had a profound impact on my thinking. I still distinctly recall the day my older brother brought it home from school and read it to my family around the dinner table, and obviously it’s stuck with me through all these years. In part because it is quite useful for introducing the concept of logical fallacies—the narrator’s explanations to Polly on their dates are as humorous as they are helpful. But there’s another reason, I think, that the story has held such a significant place in my mind; a reason I sometimes wonder if Shulman even meant to incorporate.

“Love is a Fallacy.” That’s the title, and it’s obviously meant as a joke, in substance no different from the hundreds of other jokes hack comedians have told about love and marriage over the years. A character in a TV show I saw once said, “No creature would ever willingly make a fool of himself,” to which the other character replied “Obviously you’ve never been in love!” It’s tempting to view the title as merely a briefer form of this dialogue.

And yet, there’s something fundamentally true about that title, isn’t there? After all, love is a fallacy.

A fallacy, as we’re told in the story, is something that runs contrary to logic. And this certainly would be true of love. Logic says “I need to keep my eye out for what’s best for me.” Love says “I need to look out for what’s best for you.” Logic suggests we ask “What can I do to advance my own ends?” Love demands we ask “How can I serve you?”

We see the principle of illogical love at work in our everyday lives, as well. For example, there’s nothing logical about the way we see parents love their children every day. In many cases, the logical thing for parents to do would be to leave their children behind or to let them fend for themselves. And, indeed, we do see this at times across the animal kingdom. Groups of giraffes, for example, have been known to abandon their young if they can’t learn to walk fast enough. They have to. They have predators chasing them. It’s the logical thing to do.

Now, that’s not all animals, but it’s certainly more common in the animal kingdom than among humans, where you can find story after story of fathers, and especially mothers, ignoring all logic, risking their health, even their lives, for the sake of their children.

And then, of course, we have the Gospels, and the ultimate example of love that defies all human logic in the person of Jesus Christ. The logical thing  for Him to do, from a human perspective, would have been to stand idly by, let us all condemn ourselves to Hell, not forsake His throne in Heaven, not subject himself to the pains, sufferings, and humiliations we read about, and, of course, not submit to death on the cross.

I imagine, in such a world, if we even had a Bible, John 3:16 would read a bit differently. Perhaps “For God so logically regarded the world that He gave not one iota of caring, that whosoever was born into it would have a miserable life and then enter into everlasting death.”

But thank God, literally, we know that “God is love,” and we know the verse reads quite differently.

Now to my promised charge.

When we started here today, I told you that high school graduation is a huge accomplishment, and it is. In many ways, it’s your first major milestone on the road to adulthood.

Many of you will soon be moving away from home, perhaps for the first time. Some going off to college, others out to the work force. And what you absolutely need to understand is that you are entering a world that is desperate and needy for this kind of love. Love that is self-denying, that is compassionate and unconditional. Love that is, in every way, a fallacy.

You’re entering a world where school shootings are no longer a surprise. Where we have averaged almost 15 per year, more than one every month, over the past ten years, just here in the United States.

A world where more people have taken anti-depressants than have not taken them, and where cries for help go answered less often, the more people there are around to hear.

You’re entering a world where torture and beheadings are recorded and played over and over again. Where executions and assassinations are admired and celebrated.

A world where reasoned discourse at times seems impossible to find, no matter the issue. Where people, of all ages, from all demographics, in all political parties, see those who dare disagree with them not as fellow humans, made in the image of God, but merely as enemies to be destroyed and ridiculed.

Where people gleefully join online hate mobs; where they make it their mission to hound and harass and abuse people they will never meet. Where they gloat at the downfall of these strangers, taking a sick pleasure in having played a role in dismantling a life.

This world, as the Apostle Paul tells us, is in “bondage to decay,” it “has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth,” needing the kind of self-sacrificing love shown to us by Christ. And, as you can see, this thirst, this insatiable need for that love is evident not just in the big events, or the places far away from the safety of home. It’s something we can see in every person, every day of our lives, no matter where we go.

This is the world you are now inheriting, and this is the world we all have created; and each of us has played a role in shaping it. But the good news is that each of us can also play a role in reshaping it.

When you encounter hatred, it’s natural to want to meet it in kind. In fact, I’d even say it’s logical to try to outdo the other person in aggression. “They deserved it!” is the refrain we hear so often from children excusing themselves for taking revenge on a person who wronged them.

But there’s a curious verse that’s particularly relevant in this regard. In Genesis 6, the Earth has become so corrupt that God has decided to start over again. He floods the Earth, with the only remnants of the human race being Noah and his family. And when the flood waters clear in chapter 8, and Noah has offered a sacrifice to the Lord, God says to him, “Never again will I curse that ground because of humans, for every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.”

If Shulman’s narrator had read that, I’m sure he’d inform Moses, the human author of this verse, that he was guilty of the fallacy “non-sequitur,” which literally means “it doesn’t follow.” Because the human heart is evil, God promises not to destroy us? There’s obviously something odd about the logic at work here. Our wickedness deserves destruction. Yet God, in His wisdom, knows if He delivered what we deserve, if we faced ultimate justice, it’d be the end of His creation. And because of that God promises not to give us what we deserve.

Once again, the wisdom and goodness, the love of God defy even the greatest human logic.

Brothers and sisters, it may be logical to seek to meet hatred with hatred. But let us never forget, we are called to live in a way that’s better than what is logical. And what’s more, we have the only thing that has ever reshaped this world for the better: Fallacious, self-sacrificing love. We have it demonstrated for us in Jesus the Christ, and, as John tells us in his letter, because of His love, we can show it to others.

Let’s look again at the quote from Shulman’s narrator. He uses some very specific terms to describe himself—“cool… calculating… perspicacious,” he describes himself in almost clinical terms. In fact, look at what he compares himself to: a dynamo, chemist’s scales, a scalpel—none of these qualities or comparisons are inherently bad. But there’s a distinct lack of humanity there.

And we see this in his pursuit of Polly, too. He loves her, or at least he insists that he does, but every action we see from him is so, well, so cool, and calculating. So logical. There’s no openness from him on their dates, no vulnerability or sacrifice in his attempts to woo her. She changes for him. He offers no such consideration.

Now compare that to the person of Jesus Christ, whose love goes so far beyond our understanding. Christ, who humbled himself so much, sacrificed so much, endured so much… And isn’t it fitting that, for all his planning and logic, the narrator lost his perfect woman. And Jesus Christ, by degrading and debasing himself, won not just a crown, not just the highest honors of heaven. But He won the Church, His perfect bride, and redeemed her with His very blood.

God made us logical creatures. He gave us a mind to use and logic to guide us. But before that and beyond that, He made us to show Christ’s love to the world.

May God grant us His all-sufficient grace to live out this love every day of our lives.

Graduates, let me again extend my sincere congratulations to you today on what you have achieved. And I’d again encourage each one of you to take some time today to celebrate this milestone. Because tomorrow, we have to get back to work. We’ve got an entire world to reshape, and plenty of work for each one of us to do.

I’d like to close now with the words of a praise song that has been particularly close to me for much of my life, and one I try to remind myself of frequently when I’m confronted with the world’s burdens.

I won’t sing it for you, because the last time I tried that there were no survivors. But the words are:

“We will work with each other, we will work side by side…
And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride,”

“And they’ll know we are Christians,” not by our voting record or political affiliation, not by our Twitter handle, the memes we post, or which email chains we forward to ten friends, but…

“They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Everyday People

So, I’ve been finding it really hard to blog lately, and I’ve been trying to put my finger on why, exactly, that might be.

I mean, I don’t want to blame it all on 9/11, but it certainly didn’t help.

There’s a lot of little reasons, of course, but I think the one it comes down to is the way I write. I really have a hard time writing about something until I’ve thought it over a lot. I’m the only person I know who drafts the comments I write on other people’s Facebook posts. It’s actually one reason I hate reading my own writing; it always feels so labored and forced. I read other people’s blogs, and I’m sure they put, if anything, more work than I put into mine, but the end result just feels more natural, refreshing even. I wish I could write differently, but this is the way I know how, and the end result of all this is I have a very hard time just picking a topic and writing about it. Most topics I’ve written about are the ones that got stuck in my mind and I worked them over and thought about them until I felt confident enough to put something out there.

And, as of late, all of those topics are political. And this presents something of a problem for me.

It’s not that I think politics is not a topic worth writing about (obviously), and this isn’t even a promise that I won’t write about politics in the future. But my biggest problem, I think, comes from the unstated goal of this blog.

My very first post (so long ago now) was prompted by, and largely in response to, a comment thread on my Facebook wall in which two people argued back and forth about the merits of downfalls of Noah, a film that neither of them had seen.

And I decided then that I wanted to use this blog, such as it is, to oppose that sort of closed-mindedness. I didn’t have delusions of grandeur. I wasn’t out to change the world or reshape our cultural conversation. But even if I only got two readers, I’d hoped to use my posts, even in a small way, to promote thoughtfulness, reasoned (and reasonable) discourse. Dialogue.

And right now, when it comes to politics, I’ve just got so much anger. I’m starting to worry that I’m becoming what I’ve always hated. But even if that’s not true, even if every part of my anger is completely justified, what does that leave? If all I’ve got to contribute to this field is rage, I’ll keep it to myself. There’s already more than enough of that going around.

And so I’ve been thinking a lot about what (or if) to write, because every other topic felt so small, so insignificant right now.

But as I was thinking about how all these other topics, movies and TV and art and sports, “don’t matter” anymore, from nowhere a very powerful memory came back to me.

It was July, during my bachelor party weekend in Minneapolis, and we’d gone to the Jazz and Funk Fest to see Sly and the Family Stone. It was very warm, and I was quite drunk, and I’m shockingly ignorant about music history so all of the songs they played were more or less new to me. And then they paused to talk to the crowd before kicking off their set closer.

“I’ve been around forever,” the speaker said. “And this is the craziest election I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But one thing I do know…

I-I-I am everyday people!

“And so are you!”

And as they kept singing and repeated the chorus, everyone in the crowd began to sing along. Even I caught on eventually. And there was just this weird, unspoken bond in the crowd. It didn’t matter if you were Republican or Democrat, Making America Great Again© or With Her™, or throwing your vote away on a third party.

I’d never felt that connected with strangers. And never, before or since, had felt more assured that things would work out okay.

I don’t know why that memory came back to me or what prompted it, but it was like a cold splash of water to the face. It helped me remember something I’d always known. That these topics aren’t inherently frivolous. That anything that can connect us is worth celebrating and promoting.

And that is the main reason I, for one, herald the return of the NFL Draft tonight, with the start of the season soon to follow.

There’s so many divisions in the country right now. Don’t get me wrong, the issues are important, I would never say otherwise. Discussion and debate are necessary.

And at the same time, at the end of the day, we are just “everyday people.” “Sometimes [we] can be right and [we] can be wrong,” but “we got to live together.”

And anything that can make us feel united, even for a brief moment, is a good thing.

Which is why, I swear, if I see one more person try to politicize sports, I’mma smack ‘em.

I’mma do it.

Trump’s Postmodern America?

So this has been a weird week.

Between the inauguration, the first several (largely unnerving) acts of our new president, trying to make it to the Iowa’s Women’s March, getting lost and not making it to the march but instead calling the cops on a guy who was threatening a woman while several other people stood by, it’s opened up a… lot of opportunities for important political discussion.

So it was the other day I found myself in a Facebook discussion about philosophy and Trump, two topics I would never expect to find in a room together because one is an attempt to define truth, and the other wouldn’t notice if he accidentally signed an executive order banning it from Twitter.

Hang on, I can do better than that. One is an attempt to define truth, and the other wouldn’t recognize truth if he grabbed it by its unmentionables (which, statistically speaking, he probably has).

Okay, okay, give me one more try. One is an attempt to define truth, and the other’s top advisor honestly just used the phrase “alternative facts.” I’m getting distracted, hang on…

Sorry. Anyway, the important part is, there are a lot of people trying to link the rise of Trumpism with the rise of postmodernism. There’s this article, which kicked off our discussion (and which my brother described as reading like it came from someone who “learned [philosophy] from the back of a cereal box”). This one, which is much better-written and more informed, but seems to oversimplify things (something we never do here at The Total Depravity of Mannings especially not in this post in a few minutes). And then there’s this, which probably makes the best point and, quite frankly, made me question everything I thought I knew about MTV.

And yet, there’s just something about all of these that seems off to me.

Full disclaimer: my knowledge of philosophy comes almost entirely from a few things I read years ago in college and a few master’s-level essays I’ve proofread for a friend of mine. All of these writers (including Ernst, whose article I publicly mocked) are likely much better read on this subject and it would no doubt behoove me to stick to topics I know about (which I will totally do, as soon as I figure out what they are). But.

I don’t think this is a connection that can be made, for one (probably overly simple) reason:

Trump supporters seem largely the least postmodern group active today.

We’re going to be speaking in broad terms here, so please bear with (and forgive) me. The popular view of postmodern thought, that it holds that nothing is true and morality is dead, is very much false. Such a belief would be not only ridiculous, but also untenable.

While there are many schools of postmodern thought, and a lot of depth to all of them, one thing they tend to have in common is the value of the subjective experience. The idea that, because all of our experiences are subjective, none of us can ever claim to be an “objective observer.” So we need to listen to, and take seriously, the subjective experiences of others.

If I could sum up my understanding of postmodern philosophy in one sentence, it would be this: “My experience does not define reality” (which is a bit ironic because the popular understanding of it is the opposite).

And if there is one group who acts as if their experience does define reality, it would almost have to be those who practice Trumpism.

I’m a woman, and I don’t feel like a second-class citizen. Therefore, the Women’s March is stupid.

I don’t feel black people are treated unfairly. Therefore, we don’t need the BLM movement.

Now, those are, admittedly, four of the least charitable sentences I’ve written in a long time. Not all Trumpers criticized the WM/BLM; not all who criticized were Trumpers. But given that data on that sort of thing is difficult to attain, I’d be amazed if there wasn’t at least a strong correlation there.

So what do we make of this? Well, either I’m completely off in my understanding of postmodernism (very possible, though if true I will renege on everything I’ve said here and explain how “that’s just what postmodernism represents to you, man!”) or there’s something else at play in Trump’s historic rise.

I’m inclined to go with the latter. Philosophy is important (to paraphrase a wise man, if you don’t think philosophy matters, try to explain why, without using philosophy), but it feels unnecessary to reach for abstract explanations when there are far more concrete and immediate explanations for Trump’s… nuanced relationship with truth and meaning, or why a significant portion of the population followed along.

When the choices for explaining Trump are citing a shift in philosophical approach or accepting that 4 in 5 white evangelicals put their loyalty to party ahead of their loyalty to faith, it’s tempting to blame philosophers. But it’s probably more accurate not to.

Election 2016

Okay, bear with me…

Donald Trump inherited a lot of money, and has grown his brand largely through frivolous lawsuits and exploiting the powerless. Despite many of his companies and most everything he touched failing, he developed a nearly sterling reputation as a successful business man.

He then started a campaign that, by all rights, should have been dead in the water six weeks in. Over the course of the election, he committed roughly 3,741 gaffes (conservatively estimating, of course) that would have buried much better campaigns. Despite his best efforts, he wins.

Perhaps most impressively, he managed to be somehow connected to every single terrible decision the WWE made over the course of a roughly three year period. Despite losing the company millions, he ends up a WWE Hall of Famer.

So… is it too much to think that as a president he can maybe keep failing his way to success?

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. And I needed a little humor right now, because my real thoughts are a bit darker.

I’ve seen a couple of my friends posting statuses on Facebook to the effect of “I’m so disappointed in this country,” and to be completely honest, I really can’t agree. Not because I’m happy Trump won. In fact, I said repeatedly before the election that I could stomach just about any of the candidates except him. But just because that’s the democratic process. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Much as I might want to, I have a hard time holding a vote against strangers, whose reasons for voting I sincerely don’t know.

What I am disappointed in is my brothers and sisters in faith. What I can hold against people is all the support for our president-elect from otherwise rational people who call themselves Christians. That, to me, is just incomprehensible. That is completely inexcusable.

You cannot call yourself a follower of the Prince of Peace and yet follow a man who says he would order his soldiers to kill the families of terrorists; whose solution to conflict is “bomb the shit out of them.” You cannot claim to endorse the man who said the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself, and then endorse the man running on a platform of hate; a man endorsed by the KKK and who has a history of practicing discrimination. You cannot claim loyalty to the God who said “Love me above all else, serve me above all else, trust me above all else,” and then cast your vote based on a handful of Supreme Court seats.

You cannot serve God and love power, and this election was about power, pure and simple. This election was about maintaining our stranglehold on power in this country, and the rhetoric reveals it. The “lesser of two evils” mentality confirms it.

I don’t care if you think Clinton was worse. I don’t care if you think this was our last chance to preserve America (or, more shamefully, the GOP). I don’t care if you think a third-party candidate couldn’t win. Relative morality is not who we are, preserving America is not our business, winning elections is not our priority. Our only purpose on this Earth is serving, living, speaking, and voting in a manner consistent with a good God and with His teachings.

You can’t honestly look me in the face—scratch that. This isn’t about me. You can’t look someone who is not me, someone whose place in society is more fragile than mine, someone who is a woman, who is black, who is Hispanic, who is disabled, who is gay, who is trans, who is Muslim, you cannot look that person in the face and tell them that your support of this man was loving them.

More importantly, you cannot look God in the face and tell Him that your support of this man was loving Him.

Because ultimately, while this election may be remembered for generations, even for centuries, our actions, our love for others, what we do for “the least of these” will be remembered for eternity.

How WCPW Should Have Booked: Joseph Conners’ Heel Turn (Part 2)

Last time on The Total Depravity of Mannings…

Right, so… WCPW had a very good idea that they failed to execute properly. And I can do it better…

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How I Would Have Booked It

So, to start off with, we really don’t change too much. As I said, the beginning of this feud was really excellently done. Through the first month, really, the only change I would make is after Hendry steals the pinfall in their first match as a tag team, I would have a backstage segment between the two, with Conners expressing some frustration over Hendry’s actions, and The Local Hero responding, something along the lines of “Look, you already got your win last week; in fact, you got the first win in WCPW history. But I lost. I still needed my first win, so I thought you wouldn’t mind if I took this one. You’ve already established yourself as a winner here, but I still need to make my name on this roster.”

That would be important early on, because it would set up the dynamic of their partnership. Yes, Hendry is looking out for himself, but he’s not unreasonable. And it would also give Conners a reason to put up with him for so long. It would appeal to his ego and give his character a reason to understand why Hendry does all the narcissistic things that he does.

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Besides, how could you be mad at a face like this, especially when it’s attached to an accent like this?

So then everything else plays out like it did in real life, until we get to Hendry’s singles match with Gracie. And this time… Hendry loses! Obviously! I mean, there’s no other logical way to do it. If it were a straight-up fight, Prospect could lose. They’re heels, they’re cowards, you have to book them kind of weak. But when they have the numbers advantage and it’s a 4-on-1 fight, you really have to give them the victory. Otherwise, they look like complete dorks.

So Gracie pins Hendry, 1-2-3, and after that, like in real life, Prospect starts to beat up The Local Hero. However, unlike in real life, this goes on for a while. Conners doesn’t rush to defend the partner he just turned his back on. Instead, he waits a good five or so minutes, until it’s gotten really brutal, and then he hits the ring. However, rather than running away from one man, Prospect swarms him. Conners tries to fight them off, and he actually does surprisingly well. Again, we can’t have our heel faction beaten by one man for no reason, but he holds them off long enough for Hendry to recover, and together the two of them chase Prospect off.

Hendry grabs a mic, but instead of thanking Conners, he starts dressing him down. He tells him “See? See what we could accomplish together? If you had only been here to have my back, I would have won my match.” Conners tries to argue, but because Hendry keeps interrupting him he finally gives up. He sits there in silence as Hendry instructs him to never abandon him again, and Conners just gets angrier and angrier this whole time.

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So, sort of like this, but with more high school drama

Now in the real version, they had a dramatic change in Conners’ mannerisms. As soon as he won the title, he started just constantly licking his lips with a mad glint in his eye. It was kind of… weird. So, here, because we want a more natural transition, we’re going to have him start doing that, very subtly, after this conversation. At first, you should barely be able to notice it unless you watch him very carefully, and then we’ll just have him build and build on it each week.

The next week, James R. Kennedy, the leader of Prospect comes out; he cuts a promo and challenges our heroes to an elimination tag-team match, the three members of Prospect

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Though not much more than a typical Grado match, I suppose

vs. Team Hendry, The Local Hero and Joseph Conners. Not Grado… Again, his involvement didn’t really make sense, and it also didn’t lead to anything. It was sort of a waste of everyone’s time.

So we’ve got a 3-on-2 handicap elimination match. But, instead of Conners getting eliminated right off the bat, this time Hendry gets caught showboating, and while the referee’s distracted, two of the members of Prospect double-team him, 1-2-3, he’s out.

With Hendry pinned, he starts to think the match is over, so he starts to exit the ring area and motions for Conners to come with him. Conners is all “Um… I’m still in this fight,” and Hendry is like “No, I got pinned. We lost.” Conners interprets this as Hendry trying to steal the spotlight again, grabs Lucas Archer, the legal man for Team Prospect, and hits his Righteous Kill DDT. He covers him, the ref counts to three, Conners gets the elimination. He never takes his eyes off of Joe Hendry through all of this. He’s looking daggers at Hendry. Hendry doesn’t get it, shrugs, and leaves the ring area so Conners can finish the match.

At this point, Alex Gracie and Drake, the two remaining members of Prospect, want nothing to do with Conners. They’re both out on the ring apron arguing about which of them should get in the ring. Finally, Conners walks over to their corner, knocks one of them to the floor, grabs the other, drags him into the ring, and proceeds to just rip him apart and pin him. He then does the same thing to the final member, eliminating all three men, one after another.

Okay, now, I know that I said that we can’t have our heel faction lose to one man, but there are a couple of differences between what WCPW originally did and what I’m suggesting. First, Conners isn’t beating all of Prospect all at once here, he’s taking them on one at a time. And secondly, and more importantly, there’s a purpose to booking it this way, because what we’re doing is establishing Conners as a bit of a monster. We need to show that he’s taking all of this anger he feels because Hendry’s constantly disrespecting him, and channeling it. And that’s letting him to do things no one thought he was capable of.

So basically we stick with that formula for the next couple of weeks; Hendry continues to upstage Conners, and Conners acts a bit madder each time. Then, finally, we get to the main even of Stacked. Now, in the real event, Hendry came out to his own version of the Sonic the Hedgehog theme, complete with a video where he was Sonic, and Conners was Tails. We keep that. But, instead of Conners shrugging that off, as he did in real life, that video causes him to hit his breaking point. I mean, everybody hates Tails, so…

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Probably not the worst thing that’s been done to Sonic. Probably.

When he sees that video, Conners stops moving. He stands still as a statue with no expression on his face. But in his eyes is pure rage. Hendry gets in the ring and goes for a fist bump, like in real life, and Conners simply doesn’t move. He doesn’t turn his head. He in no way acknowledges Hendry’s existence.

Rampage and Big Damo both make their entrances, and we don’t give Big Damo a mic, because that just ends poorly. Instead, the match just starts. After all, that’s what we’re here to see. Right from the start, Joseph Conners goes on an absolute tear. He just starts laying into people, knocking them over, left and right, up and down. He is dominating this match. You can see the looks on the faces of the other three competitors, all thinking ‘What the heck is this? Where did this guy come from?’

About halfway through the match, Hendry gets knocked out down to the floor. He’s not badly hurt, but he decides to just chill down there and see how things play out. Back in the ring, there’s some back and forth, but again it’s mostly still just Joseph Conners going nuts on everyone. He’s hitting move after move, and going for pinfall after pinfall. But each time, whether he tries to pin Rampage or Big Damo, they manage to just barely kick out before three. And Conners is just getting more and more outraged at this. He starts yelling, he starts pounding the mat. Eventually, he starts intimidating the ref after each near fall.

That goes on for a few minutes, and then Joe Hendry climbs back onto the apron. But before he can re-enter the ring, Big Damo shoulder tackles him, sending him flying back to the outside, and Hendry hits his head against the barricade. He gets busted open, there’s blood everywhere. The ref goes to check on Hendry and Big Damo seizes this opportunity to keep his title. He goes out into the crowd to grab a chair. Rampage and Conners continue fighting each other, so they completely miss this. Damo returns to the ring with a chair and he tries to ram it into Conners’ head. Conners just manages to duck out of the way in time and Damo instead cracks Rampage across the skull. Damo turns around to attack Conners, but Conners surprises him, and dropkicks the chair into Damo’s face, knocking him out.

Outside, Hendry is just getting to his feet. He’s a bit dazed and bloody, but still able to keep going. Conners grabs the ref’s attention and goes for the pin on Damo.

The ref counts one. Hendry climbs to the top turnbuckle. The ref counts two. Hendry leaps, but in his dazed state he misses Conners and Damo. He instead lands on the ref, just as the ref was about to count three.

If Conners had any sanity left, he loses it here. He grabs Hendry and pulverizes him with the Righteous Kill DDT. He then gets the chair Big Damo used, and proceeds to smash Hendry with the chair, over and over again, breaking the chair on Joe Hendry’s back.

Conners throws what’s left of the chair out of the ring. He wakes up the ref. He covers Hendry. One. Two. Three. And the twitching and lip licking get even more maniacal.

So that’s how I would have booked it. I think it just makes more sense. There’s a more logical flow from one event to the next, the character motivations are easier to follow, it prevents Prospect from being completely buried for no reason, and, most of all, it avoids raising questions about why there are no disqualifications in a match that would normally have disqualifications!

How do you think I did? Tell me about it in the comments below, let me know how you would have booked this angle, and also let me know if there’s another WCPW angle you’d like me to re-book. I take requests. Well… I might take requests. If I decide to turn this into a regular thing, I might take requests. Let’s play it by ear.

How WCPC Should Have Booked: Joseph Conners’ Heel Turn (Part 1)

Hello there! I’m Thadd from The Total Depravity of Mannings, and welcome to How WCPW Should Have Booked, where I look back at infamous WCPW missed booking opportunities and talk about how I’d book them differently because I’m a smart ass.

Author’s note: I swear on my life, I have never heard of Adam the Blampied’s series How WWE Should Have Booked and definitely don’t recommend watching it. Right now.

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I couldn’t figure out how to do the ding.

That’s right, we’re talking about professional wrestling again today, because why not? I know, no one takes it seriously, but that’s too bad. Because at the end of the day, what professional wrestling amounts to is storytelling, whether that’s with words, or more often (and preferably) without words. And, as I’ve talked about before (and a lot of people a lot smarter than me have noted) storytelling matters. Telling clear stories, and telling them well, is important. It’s part of what makes (and keeps) us human. And if WhatCulture is going to point out when WWE drops the ball on their storytelling, I think it’s only fair if someone does the same for them.

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The Original Booking

So, in one of WhatCulture Pro Wrestling’s first shows, Joseph Conners and “The Local Hero” Joe Hendry formed a tag team to take on Prospect, the main heel faction of WCPW (sort of like Nexus in WWE). Over the next two months, they built up a slow-burning feud between the two, with Hendry constantly upstaging Conners. He would interrupt him in interviews. In their first tag match together, Hendry blind tagged himself in and stole the pinfall. At one point Hendry made Conners come out to the ring with him just so he could call out another wrestler and demand a 1-on-1 match for a spot in the upcoming world championship, completely excluding Conners. Basically Hendry was acting like a bit of a cock.

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Basically this. But over and over again, for weeks.

It all seemed to come to a head on the August 8th episode of Loaded, WCPW’s weekly show. The Local Hero was booked to face Alex Gracie, one of the members of Prospect, in a singles match. Conners was especially peeved on this night because not only had Hendry cost them their match the previous week, but he had promised to write an entrance theme for their team that was evenly about each of them, and instead wrote this, which was almost entirely about The Local Hero and only mentioned Joseph Conners for one line (the line was “Joseph Conners”). As a result, Conners told Hendry he was on his own for his match that night.

So Hendry goes into his match with Gracie by himself, while Gracie has the other three members of Prospect watching his back. And because Prospect are heels, they’re cheating! They distract the ref, they double-team Hendry, they generally make his life hell. And yet, despite this, Joe Hendry, who had not won a singles match before this night in his entire WCPW run, wins. He takes Prospect on, 4-against-1, and beats them. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

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If the man not wearing gold pants looks like he’s seen a ghost, it’s probably because he’s looking at his future endeavors

Then, after the match, Prospect start ganging up on Joe Hendry, and almost immediately after that starts, Conners hits the ring and chases them off. Hendry gets on the mic and says something about how much that meant to him and he gives Conners his moment to shine. Conners gives a big, long speech about how Hendry was there for him when he needed a friend and how he’ll be there for Hendry, no matter what. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Flash forward a couple of weeks and Prospect challenges Team Hendry, consisting of The Local Hero, Joseph Conners, and Grado (who really had nothing to do with anything and was just sort of thrown in there) to a 3-on-3 elimination match. Conners and Grado get eliminated early, leaving Hendry alone to take on Prospect alone, which he does. Again. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

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Well, if we buried everyone this hard, at least we’d never have to worry about zombies

Then finally, at WCPW’s next special event, Stacked. Hendry and Conners have both been inserted into the world championship match, a 4-way match that also included Rampage Brown and the defending champion Big Damo (no, your name is stupid!). Over the course of the match, Hendry sacrifices his body several times to push Conners out of the way of danger; the final time taking a chair shot to the midsection from Damo… A chair shot that, for some reason, does not result in a disqualification, even though it was in full view of the ref. First of all, what? Secondly, don’t question it, it saves time.

Anyway, at the end of the match, Rampage and Damo are brawling on the outside of the ring, leaving Conners and a wounded Hendry inside. Hendry offers his tag-team partner a handshake, which Conners takes and then immediately turns into his finisher, the Righteous Kill DDT, beginning his heel turn. Conners goes for the pin, and… I’m not really sure what happens. The ref clearly counts to three, and Hendry never kicks out or even visibly moves, but, for reasons never made clear, the ref signals that Hendry was not pinned.

So then, with very little provocation, Conners grabs the chair that Damo had used on Hendry earlier and throws it in The Local Hero’s face. He picks it back up and smashes it

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Not pictured: A reason for disqualification

over Hendry’s back over and over again, completing his heel turn. He goes for the cover. The ref counts, one, two three. New WCPW Heavyweight Champion.

So yeah, there was a lot to like about this storyline. I liked that they put the belt on Conners in the end, and they did a pretty decent job of swerving the fans. They made it seem like Hendry was going to be the one to turn, and it was a bit surprising when Conners went heel, instead.

But still, it didn’t quite all come together. They started building the tension between the Joes, but then halfway through they completely undid that for no real reason, only to pick the angle back up again a few weeks later. Then the final event that caused Conners’ turn felt really small, and as a result his actual turn felt unearned. Also, Prospect was really buried by this angle, and for no real reason. And given that they’re some of the few heels on WCPW’s roster right now, they really need to be booked stronger to be a credible threat. Also, why were there no DQs? The match wasn’t announced as no disqualification, so using the chair should have been illegal. And if it was legal, why should we care that Conners used it? Why didn’t everyone use it?

So some good things, but also a whole lot of reasons it didn’t… really… work… And I can do it better.

Read Part 2 to see how…