Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why Iron Man Is Like Jesus

Maybe you believe in Jesus, maybe you don’t. I’m one of the believer people, but even if I weren’t a Christian I would still love Christ figures in literature. From Carlisle Cullen to Katniss Everdeen, these guys crop up everywhere.

I will talk about that, but first, a short story.

Church. Sunday. Adult Bible study is boring. Really boring. On a spontaneous whim I led my sisters downstairs and hosted a private Sunday School, the lesson I called “Jesus vs. The Avengers.” Later, my sister would ask to be included among the Avengers, and I agreed. By checking off criteria shared between the Avengers, Jesus, and my sister, we were able to decide that Jesus was Jesus, my sister was the least like Jesus and Iron Man/Tony Stark was the most like Jesus.
“What? But all he wants are girls and booze!”

Doesn’t matter. Despite being a very rich sinner, Iron Man also happens to display several different qualities of a Christ figure within the Marvel universe.

[Editor’s Note: I am not a hardcore Marvel fan. I’ve just seen the movies. I’ve done a little bit of research. But that’s all. Please do not be offended.]

he sacrificed himself—Look at The Avengers, there’s a nuke coming for New York and Iron Man is taking care of it. He took on that responsibility knowing he might not make it back out. But he did. And New York was saved.

he came back from the dead—Tony Stark fell out of the sky, and Hulk got him, and put him on the ground, and they thought he was dead. But Hulk was having none of that, so never mind.

builder—Jesus was a carpenter. Tony builds suits. Their primary focus is not doing those things—there is a world to save, after all, but the tool belt remains. They fix more than situations; they fix things, too.

tempted—Tony gets tempted all the time. He even succumbs all the time. But, interestingly enough, when it comes to his “devils,” namely people like Obadiah Stone, Justin Hammer, and Aldrich Killian, Tony resists their evil business plans and sad excuses for morals. 

betrayed—Obadiah Stone, Hawkeye, Maya Hansen, the Vice President… There’s a lot of betrayal going on. Maybe there isn’t a specific “Judas” Tony has to deal with, but he’s certainly had a lot of people turn his back on him.

persecution—Maybe “persecution” is something of a strong word, but regardless, Tony does face a lot of criticism. People try to deter him. And people try to kill him. Some days I imagine it sucks to be Tony.

miracles—Tony always has a new suit. Somewhere. And even if he doesn’t have a suit, then he can make bombs out of Christmas ornaments. Where there was lawn care supplies there is now destruction—that sounds miraculous to me.

compassion—His love is not universal, but when it comes to people he really cares about—Pepper, Happy, Coulson—he will do what he can to make things right again. He really does care. And maybe his love is unorthodox, but it exists.

takes after his father—Tony is walking in Howard’s footsteps. This is especially apparent in Iron Man 2, but it’s clear that he’s still in the family business, and for the better.

values justice—Even though he almost got rejected from the Avengers, Tony still has a present sense of right and wrong, even if it doesn’t match up with everyone else’s.

doesn’t dress like Thor—Okay, my sisters and I were being silly. But, if you take Steve’s word for it, God doesn’t dress like Thor. Neither does Tony.

There you go. Tony Stark, the Christ figure. For the record, Captain America and Thor were right behind him, so perhaps I’ll follow through with them sometime. In the meantime, peace out.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Meaning of Life

This is a rather dark and morbid entry for the blog, far darker than I'd have imagined, but I think it makes for an interesting topic, and there's a lot to discuss about it. That being said...

What is the meaning of life?

I mentioned a few weeks ago that life was all about discovering your "verse" (oddly significant after Robin Williams' suicide last week): the line or two that you would contribute to the ongoing play of humanity. But is that really what we have been put on this Earth for? Is that our main purpose here: to make something of ourselves, or to be remembered? Biology and evolution would suggest otherwise: we are here simply to continue our bloodline: to reproduce to continue the human race.

I'd like to present this line or two from Richard Wright's Black Boy, one of the most underrated and brilliant novels I've ever read:

"Can't you really read?" I asked.
"Naw," she giggled. "You know I can't read."
"You can read some," I said.
"Naw," she said.
I stared at her and wondered just what a life like hers meant in the scheme of things, and I came to the conclusion that it meant absolutely nothing. And neither did my life mean anything.

Freddie Mercury famously sung in that most unfathomable of songs, Bohemian Rhapsody, that "nothing really matters, anyone can see...nothing really matters...to me..." I have the feeling he and Richard Wright would have gotten along just fine. But the point remains: in the end, do our lives, histories, relationships matter? In a hundred years most of us will be lucky to even be remembered by our great-great-great grandchildren. Yet without us they would not exist. This goes back to what I said earlier about biology...

Various religions (I'm Catholic myself) give the reason for our existence in the divine. Christianity, Judaism and Islam say that a loving God placed us here, and that soon we shall rejoice in Heaven. But if Heaven is the ultimate goal, then is our sojourn on Earth for, other than working to that goal? Buddhism and Hinduism say that we are here because we are working to ultimate enlightenment, or else are suffering due to our actions (noble or otherwise) in a past life. (I'll delve more into the subject of reincarnation at a later time, it merits a very big discussion.)

There is a curious little story called "The Egg" (read it here)which deals which religion and the universe. It's an interesting read, and puts forth the theory that everyone in the world who has ever lived and will live is an incarnation of ourselves. In a sense, we are the Universe.

There's a book (I frustratingly can't remember which) in which a character notes that everyone in the world forms a machine: everyone is an intricate mechanical gear that, without them, the world would not function as well. That's a rather kitschy way of putting it, but perhaps it's the most correct of them all: maybe we are here to help ourselves. To help each other, to make ourselves something better than how we were born.

Interesting, isn't it? But there are so many theories out there: which exactly is the right one?

-R. R.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Plot of Plots

“What Diabolus understood, and what I hope you will all come to understand as well, is that a scheme must have style; a plot must have a plot, if you will.”

-Dr. Nero, H.I.V.E., Mark Walden, pg 146

If you have not read H.I.V.E. then you should—on this I am adamant. Never mind that it is my favorite series and that I love it so much I bought the book in Spanish to challenge myself, but it is also filled with little wisdoms such as the one above.

A plot must have a plot.

Like Rob, I am of the higher ranked students in my year. I take honors and AP classes, with other students of the same caliber. The only thing any of us seem to have in common is our need to whine. (Well, I try not to—I love most of my classes.)

“He’s a terrible teacher.”

“She never taught us that!”

“This book is dumb!”

“I’m never going to need to know how to write an essay!”

I hear it in history, English, Spanish… my favorite classes, all torn to shreds by their criticisms.

It’s true, sometimes they are probably right. Some of it isn’t going to be important to them. They will probably grow up to be doctors and nurses, architects, engineers, the groomed middle class of tomorrow. But their plots have no plots. And their schemes have no style.

Their purpose is empty, and that frustrates me to no end.

You see, I have no idea what I want to do when I grow up. Perhaps I will be a barista. Maybe I will work two shifts at a coffee shop all morning, work the afternoon at Office Max and then spend my evenings at McDonald’s. Maybe I will even live up to my parents’ dreams and be able to sustain myself.

Regardless, my plots will have plots.

As a writer, I understand this: it is not enough to have supporting characters, a setting, a goal; they all must be their own main characters, with dreams to reach and pasts to hide as well.

As a person, I understand this: it is not enough to live; it must be life to the fullest because that will make it worthy.

Dr. Nero knows what he means about purpose—you can read these kinds of things in the Bible or the ancient myths of old. Purpose is that thing that means you must not succeed but excel. That 110%. It is the meaning to your actions, or as Megamind would say it, “PRESENTATION!”

That is my Dr. Nero. Evil is applicable.

It’s back to school season, and again it seems like we are lining up to learn useless drivel and complete tasks that will be irrelevant and outdated in five years. It will be dull for my classmates. But I know what it is to have style, and so here I am on the brink of new purpose.


Monday, August 11, 2014

The Superficiality of Life (feat. T.S. Eliot)

Let me make this clear: I love poetry. It's elegant, it's beautiful, and it has a wonderful way of resonating within me, whether it be Stephen Crane's intellectual paradoxes, or Robert Browning's blithe celebrations of life and nature. I collect volumes of poetry. I have been published in several anthologies. But despite all of this, my favorite poem is an odd one, an eclectic riddle of modernism, a musing upon the shallowness and emptiness of life. I am talking, of course, of T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

"Let us go then, you and I,
As the evening spreads across the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table..."

I am not going to analyse and explain this poem line by line. There are a great many number of websites that do so already. I am only going to point out three quotes from the poem. But of course, you should read it first! A link to the whole poem is here.

 Rather, I am going to explain Eliot's poem and connect it to my life, because the modern teenager's life is very, very similar to this poem. At least mine is. And I'm sure many others, as well.

In this masterwork, Eliot's first step through the door of literary celebration (and criticism), a middle-aged, crisis laden fellow named Prufrock worries about a whole host of things. Should he go out? What if people notice he is bald and thin? Does he dare eat a peach? (Yes, a peach.)

Teenagers (and, I could argue, today's appearance-based society) are just like Prufrock. Does this shirt make me look fat? What would the guys at work think of this tie? Should I pig out and forget my Paleo Diet? (No offense to anyone doing the Paleo Diet.) But we spend a great deal of our lives wondering about how others perceive us, and the possible aftereffects and repercussions. This isn't necessary a bad thing, but it is a waste. We only live once, you know. Our life is limited on this earth, and worrying about that new dress isn't helping matters. I'm not saying to entirely live carefree, rather that needless, "shallow" worrying is pointless.

Let's move on:

"In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo."

I bring up this line, the "chorus", of sorts, of the poem, because of its implied superficiality. Women just happening to walk around and talk about a 16th-century sculptor? Something doesn't ring right...

I'm the first to admit it, but I can be an intellectual dilettante. I can talk to you about David Foster Wallace and his contributions to postmodernism, but I have never read a single word of Infinite Jest. (Don't worry. What I discuss on this blog I have entirely researched, read, and studied meticulously. There is a time and place for dilettantism.)

I hang out with the "smart" crowd at school, of sorts. I'm 9th in my class. My best friend is first in our year. My other close friends and acquaintances make up the most of the top 50. Little wonder, then, that we all try to outshine ourselves in class, or in conversation, to be perceived and hailed as the greatest intellectual. (I currently "battle" with my best friend in this regard.) But this is exactly what I am talking about. We can jaw and talk about long-dead people or how to solve that tough calculus problem, but in the end, does it really matter? Or is it all just superficial talk? (Don't get me wrong, I love learning new things and talking about them. But there becomes a point where it all is just for show. Is that right?)

Moving on to the last one:

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.

Measuring out his life with coffee spoons...this is perhaps one of the most intriguing lines in all of poetry. I love this line: the pure sweetness of it, like candy: it's catchy, it's whimsical. This is what I love most in poetry: the whimsy inside wonder.

Back to the poem: one interpretation of that line says that since coffee was the social drink du jour (as it is today: Starbucks, anyone?), Prufrock bolstered the claims to his superficiality by measuring his life by the number of social gatherings he had been to: in short, the number of times he had been served coffee, or spun sugar in it with a coffee spoon.

Doesn't that sound like today? Facebook, and other social media sites, have done this. We, as a society, have largely measured ourselves by the number of friends we have, or the number of likes a post we made has. We compare ourselves to others, who may have grossly increased their friend count, and set a standard by it. But friends should not be reduced to a number: it's quality, not quantity. How many of the 600 Facebook Friends or Twitter followers would jump into a burning building for you? How many of the 50 "likes" on that post this morning would "like" you if you were to do something not necessarily condoned by society?

Eliot, in all these examples, has shown, and poked fun at, the superficiality in his society (1915 England). But 99 years later from the original publication, the same worries still apply. Interesting, isn't it?

As I have shown above, Eliot's poem lends itself to many different interpretations and explanations. Mine is just one offering, one plausible explanation that may not even have crossed the poet's mind as he wrote it. But I hope you understood the point I was trying to make:

Poetry is beautifully intricate and complex. Read it with enthusiasm, and you may well marvel in wonder at the power of words.



Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Villain is Always the Hero

image via Goodreads

Let’s get one thing straight: the villain is always my hero. Why? The villain makes conflict, and if there is
no conflict, then there is no story, and if there is no story, then that book is a waste of precious ink and paper.

 Also, I love villains.

What’s fascinating, though, is that villains are almost identical to heroes at their core. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo—an excellent conclusion to the Grisha Trilogy I have reviewed here, and yes, you must read it. (I’ll try not to spoil too much, but I make no promises!)

A Few Things to Know:

Alinaprotagonist; a sun summoner who can manipulate light to her will. She is the only hope to destroy the Fold.

Darklingantagonist; he summons darkness, leads the Grisha, and plans to expand the Fold indefinitely.

Fold—a rift of darkness made by the Darkling; terrible monsters live there making it impossible to inhabit.

Grisha—people who manipulate basic elements (i.e. flesh, light, metal, etc.) with a special power they are born with.

Zoyaminor antagonist; a squaller who summons and manipulates air, doesn’t get along with Alina.

Three different people, three different powers, three different goals, and yet all the same. Check it out!

The Darkling

~Unique Skills and Abilities~
Alina is the only sun summoner and the only Grisha capable of destroying the Fold.
The Darkling is a rare night summoner, the only one who can expand the Fold, and has a special political position that allows him to control his rivals by threatening to bring the Fold upon them.
Zoya is one of the most talented squallers, not to mention prettier, faster, and better trained than Alina.

~Defining Values and Moral Codes~
Alina’s most important belief is that the Darkling must be defeated. Innocent people should not have to die for Grisha power, and Grisha should not have to live and die under the Darkling.
The Darkling disregards “the abandoned,” or non-Grisha folk. He believes Grisha are simply better, and therefore should bow to no one. Everything he seeks is for the glory, protection, and continued success of the Grisha—regardless of cost.
Zoya believes the Darkling must be stopped, but she also believes that she deserves as much or more attention than Alina. Her jealousy defines their relationship for quite a while, and so despite being allies, her actions also make them enemies.

~Specific Goals~
Alina wants to end the Darkling and keep him from destroying the world. To do this, she finds amplifiers to strengthen her power.
The Darkling wants to permanently elevate the Grisha above all others, period. Therefore, he must inspire fear and conquer the world.
Zoya wants to prove that she is important in the fight against the Darkling, which she does by doing.

~Seeks to Accomplish Said Goals and Faces Successes and Failures Along the Way~
Alina’s personal misfortunes and lack of forces often get in her way. She always finds a way to scrape by, but her goals are never met freely.
The Darkling’s influence waxes and wanes with the opinions of his fellow Grisha, the common people, and religious and political powers. His summoning power serves him, but the rest is often out of his hands.
Zoya is stomped on, but never destroyed. Her ability to hurt and annoy Alina fails as Alina gains confidence, and Zoya’s need to hurt her fades as she becomes needed and important.

~Crisis Point: Winning and Losing~
Alina defeats the Darkling, but at the price of the things she thought she couldn’t live without. She won and lost at the same time.
The Darkling is Alina’s opposite. He achieves his minor goals, but ultimately it is not he who achieves the power and glory he always sought.
Zoya is special. She wins her war, but loses as an antagonist. She and Alina gain a funny kind of friendship, which means her goals as an opponent are lost.

The thing is, Alina is our protagonist, but from the point of view of the Darkling and Zoya, it isn’t Alina’s story—it’s theirs. They believe they are the hero, with enemies and beliefs and plans to rise. The Darkling even says, “Make me your villain.” He never believed he was wrong—he was his own good guy.

The villain is always the hero. Because when they believe it, then you can believe it too. That’s what made them good books.

And that’s what makes us human. We’re all our own heroes—and that could easily be our undoing or our greatest strength. We’ll see.

What did you think? Am I crazy? Am I right? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments!