Monday, February 7, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens: UFOs and Yee Haws!

During the Superbowl, I wait for each break in a play, commercial timeout, downed player on the field so I can see the latest commercials.  Some of the ads this year were okay, some fun, some irritating. The number of movie trailers for summer movies seemed greater than usual. Given the audience, trailers featuring a lot of action, explosions and pretty girls didn't surprise me. But what did catch my eye was the trailer for Cowboys and Aliens  starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford.  Based on the graphic novel of the same name, the story takes place in the mid- 19th century and is played like a western, not a campy send up. At least that is what we are to believe according to interviews with the creators.  I also read we are not to expect steam punk but, again, a true western and that's all right with me. Mash ups, as popular as they are, can go either way. They can be an homage or a parody.  But the more I read about this movie, the more I find myself wishing the summer would get here and not because of the weather!

According to a film commentator, many early sci fi movies were really just futuristic westerns with frontiers to explore, territories being invaded, and the inevitable shootouts between the white hats and the black hats. I get that. Those grainy Saturday invasion movies, Star Trek and Lost in Space were my favorites. But they came after I fell in love with Wagon Train, High Chapparrell, and all those western flicks. Almost forty years later, I will finally have two of my favorite genres in one movie!

Yeehaws and UFOs are a great mash up for our times. We still long for straight shooting sons of guns who can take down the bad guys and ride away with the pretty young miss. We are full of nostalgia for the days when good guys wore white hats and bad guys wore black. Gray was not an option. The themes of honor, protection and frontier adventure resonate as much now as back when I got up early to watch my westerns and grade B scifi. The swagger and bravado of the guys who live on the range and ride in the saddle are still the same.  Straight shooting, spit in the eye, "this is my land and you aren't going to take it" sort of men do not back down from aliens from another planet.

Science fiction still has its appeal as well. The possibility of breaking the fetters holding us back here on earth. The plays on fear of new technology. There are still scary monsters threatening our borders and our sense of calm. Our aliens are more advanced than we are in some ways and far less compassionate in others. But, in those maybe not-so-classic movies of my youth, they were always destroyed by the earthlings' sense of inventiveness and belief in their planet. We need that reminder yet again.

For all these reasons, I can't wait for the shootout at the UFO Corral.  Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig aren't bad reasons either.

What appeals to you about westerns and/scifi movies? Do you like mash ups? Why or why not?


Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Words We Choose

I have been in a writing slump. Hospitals, holidays and lack of inspiration made my brain a blank and my fingers too lazy to type. But I am back at it because of this weekend's horrible events in Arizona. The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and others, the death of a nine year old girl born on 9/11, the sheriff's comments about "political vitriol in the media" not only made my fingers itch and my brain fill but made my heart sore. Writing is the only way I know to reduce the pain. Words have a lot of power both for good and for ill.

In reading the many articles and opinion pieces in the aftermath of Saturday's shooting, I discovered Gabrielle Giffords, in her political life, was attacked by those on the left as well as those on the right.  Certain personalities on the right put her in "crosshairs of [their] target map." But liberals also declared her "dead to them" when she voted against the Obama health care plan and later voted against Pelosi as minority leader. Numerous media outlets and "opinionators" are blaming specific people for the shooting. Still others are blaming the media in general. What are they concerned about?  The words flowing in our political water sources and poisoning our own groundwater tables, reservoirs and wells.

It doesn't take much to incite violence in those who are dealing with mental illness or anger issues predisposing them to be violent themselves. With the MD mailbombs, it was something as simple as "see something, say something" and a reaction to that statement.  So words of violence can be expected to cause even more harm.

Words can harm but they also can heal.  Jesus used words of hope and love to make an impact, sharp at times, but not threatening. A man who died a violent end, he lived a life of peace. An example to all, his words still survive to give us guidance. But for those who have put pen to paper or spoken out through time, it can be more of a challenge to get the words right. 

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, "so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them." I would like to focus on the good. Words can  inspire us to reach toward God, reach toward a higher purpose in our lives.  Those words can be found in fiction and non-fiction, books and newspapers, blogs and tweets. What responsibility we have as writers or simply those voicing our opinions to carefully choose the words we use, the lessons we teach.

What lessons do I hope will be taken from this tragedy?  Strong words should be allowed in political and personal discourse. More than just allowed, they are a right. But strong words don't have to be violent words. More importantly, where are the positive words in our lives? How much do we use positive words to inspire and move us forward? Will the speeches of Congress be spoken in a more positive manner after this event?  I hope so. They have already cancelled any votes this coming week out of respect for the situation and have time to reflect. But will we think about the influence we have with our words in our writing and speaking?  Will we set forth good examples and be more positive about those we disagree with or, at least, less prone to use words of hyperbole and caricature? I hope so. I know I am going to watch the "words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart" and hopefully, with God's help, choose wisely.

What words are the most powerful and positive for you? What writers have inspired you in a positive manner? How can you be more positive in your speech and thought?