Back From Hiatus (mostly due to me being lazy)

Well, it’s been a couple months, and the world seems to have gotten even more chaotic, so I figured now’s the perfect time to come back with an update. The self-imposed hiatus came mainly from having to finish all my assignments for my online classes, which I procrastinated for weeks on. I dropped one class, and I honestly think I would’ve failed another if my teacher didn’t extend the deadlines by two weeks (thank god).

In other non-important news, this blog’s name also changed to A Blog On Mango Street. I just found it to be a much better name for a blog overall, and it coincided with me changing my online name to Antidote Alarm (which is also the new name of my YouTube channel). And speaking of YouTube, that is actually still a thing I want to do. I began to stream in early April, and found that I kind of liked the way I rambled about myself and other random topics, so more of those are likely to come soon. And I finally got to upload a video about my distaste of Looking For Alaska. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dsTCSCveUw&t=346

That was the only thing I worked on right after my classes went online, and I’m pretty proud of how it turned out. Expect the heart avatar to go away in future videos, as I also made a brand new icon with my skills in photoshop.

No guarantee I’ll stick with this forever, but I do like having an avatar I created myself. So, that’s about everything significant I did in the three months I’ve been gone. This blog will continue, and posts will be made, but I can’t promise any sort of schedule. Ultimately, this blog is only one place of many where I can share my ideas, and I’d like to keep up the variety I have going between blogging, videos, and writing fiction for as long as I can. To anyone who’s interested or will be interested in what I make, just know that I have a lot more time and pressure lifted off my shoulders after a pretty hellish semester, and you won’t have to wait months for something new. Summer is officially here.

The Kissing Booth 2: Just Why?

I really didn’t wan’t to do this, but I thought it might be wrong for me to watch a movie this bad and not post about it. Yes, I did watch the first one, and no, I didn’t like it either. What’s really interesting is that they had actual writers write the story on this one, and it steel feels like the original’s teen girl fanfiction. (you know, because that’s what it is). I already know that I’m not in the intended audience and the main goal is to be a fluffy rom-com, but can it at least try to be interesting? I promise to go back to covering stuff I like next time, but for now, I want to let off some steam.

First off, this movie is way too long, and feels that way to a painful extent. I mean, two hours? Over half of it was about Elle, the ultra basic protagonist playing a DDR ripoff with Lee, her ultra-basic best friend, who wants to win money so she can go to school near her ultra-basic (reformed) bad boy boyfriend Noah. And I couldn’t care less about any of them.

I kept on thinking about how literally no one plays DDR like it’s an actual dance competition with choreography until I realized that The Kissing Booth takes place in a strangely alternate reality version of our world, where DDR is an esport that somehow involves Dancing With The Stars level performances. They literally perform in a stadium that can house a massive pop concert. What is this world where the dance game at malls and arcades is this popular?

I understand the people making the movie wanting the sequel to be on a bigger and grander scale from the first one, but why spend it all here? When we finally get to the booth, which appears in the last twenty minutes, it’s barely even a plot point. And don’t even get me started on the obviously shoehorned in gay couple that got a total screen-time of three minutes. I could not look at my screen that scene was so cringy.

Speaking of cringe, how about Elle and Lees entire friendship. Am I the only one that found it extremely uncomfortable the way Elle basically prevented her best friend from spending time with his girlfriend? It’s a little messed up how oblivious she was, even after the point when Rachel rightfully calls her out on it at the Halloween party. Elle doesn’t even have to sincerely apologize either. Rachel just automatically forgives her when she learns that Lee didn’t say anything to Elle, which he didn’t have to do if, you know, Elle wasn’t completely terrible.

As far as romance goes, the plot was ripped straight from another popular Netflix rom-com that came out earlier this year: cool new guy Marco shows up that might threaten main couple’s relationship, while Elle has doubts about whether bad boy Noah is truly in love with her. I wonder which did it better? Oh, and there’s a mature-looking woman with a British accent for some reason who has a tendency to lose earrings. Her single purpose is to make Elle Jealous and nothing else. Tell me why this is popular again?

We all know Elle and Noah are going to stay together, why even bother with adding these new characters that add nothing to what little of a story there is. But considering they’re two of the sparse people of color in the cast, I can kind of see it. It makes me wonder why the first movie didn’t have more color in it. Hmmm…

Anyways, there’s a whole misunderstanding about the British girl’s earrings, which leads to Elle kissing Marco at the dance contest, which makes Noah really angry, but he cools down and makes up with her at the spot where they first got together and all is well…until Elle opens her college acceptance letters.

There is actually going to be a Kissing Booth 3. I would be angrier, but I’ve come to terms with the movie franchises’ popularity. People like it, and I can’t fault them for that, even if a lot of them are grown adults in their 20s. One thing I’d like to comment on is Elle’s essay. She seriously got into Harvard by starting an essay with restating the prompt. If that doesn’t say something about the American education system, I don’t know what does.

So, I didn’t like this at all. Literally nothing was funny about it and multiple parts made me cringe from just how boring it was. But am I going to watch the third one? Probably. So maybe I’m the one that needs help. See you next year when The Kissing Booth turns into an even more lifeless version of After. I can’t wait to see which one flubs their essays more.

#kissing-booth, #movie, #netflix

Yes, Obviously Adults Can Enjoy Kids Shows Too

There’s this phrase that always bugs me whenever older people (a.k.a, people who aren’t children) talk about shows and other media meant for kids. “For a kid’s show, it’s pretty mature” Whenever I hear it, it immediately makes me cringe. I mean, yes, children’s entertainment can be deep and have mature themes, so what? A lot of stuff meant for adults can also be immature and vapid. It’s like most adults don’t want to enjoy something for kids unless it can prove itself to tackle dark, serious subject matter. They don’t want a good “kid’s show”. They want a good show that just happens to be meant for kids. I, for one, used to think like this, but have since become enlightened to the concept of liking something because it’s fun rather than it’s ability to act mature.

As always, Avatar is the picturesque example. A brilliantly written kid’s show that managed to be both serious and mature while also being lighthearted and fun. It’s the ultimate “adults can enjoy it too” show, right up there with Friendship is Magic (when it was good anyway). But as I’ve gotten older, I find the people constantly praising Avatar for it’s mature storytelling to be more and more grating. Yes, I know that Zuko’s character is great and his redemption arc is well done. I know that the show’s portrayal of war and it’s negative aspects are incredibly rare in children’s animation. I know that the world-building around Asian philosophy is extremely unique. That’s all fine and good, but you guys do know that this cartoon is mainly a comedy, right? The first thing Aang says in the show is ask Kataara to go penguin sledding. There’s almost as many funny moments in the show than there are serious ones that impact the story, and I wish more time would be devoted to how well Avatar works as a comedy as well as a drama.

And this trend only seems to have continued in the 2010’s, to the point where the creators of the show seem to be in on it too. I remember first discovering Star Vs. The Forces Of Evil, and loving how much fun t was the first two seasons. But then season three came around and everything on Star’s alien home-planet instead of Earth, bogging the episodes down with unnecessary plot and lore. The entire point of the show to begin with was to see Star adapt to life on Earth and have cool adventures with Marco, but someone decided it would be better to make the story a thinly veiled allegory at discrimination instead. Turning Star Vs. more “serious” ruined the show for me, and it disappoints me to know that the guiding principle a lot of kids shows tend to have is to follow in Avatar’s footsteps, whether it be Star Vs., Friendship is Magic, or even Legend of Korra. This in no way means that I hate any kids show that tries to be more “mature” in it’s themes. I just think that maturity doesn’t automatically make something better. I long for a time where more people can freely admit that they like a show meant for kids because it’s a good kid’s show, and not try to justify it with mentions of “deep, complex” plots and mature themes. You like a kids show. It’s okay. Don’t take it too seriously and have fun with your life.

#entertainment, #kids

Early March Round-Up

Yeah, so February just kind of flew by. I don’t really have a reason for not posting, but I definitely haven’t forgotten that I have a blog that I really should update more frequently.

Now, normally I’ve been making posts about a single piece of media that I like or dislike, but this time I want to do something different which I’ve seen a lot of people cover books do. I’m going to go through a bunch of stuff I’ve read, watched, or listened to, and compile my thoughts all into one big round-up. There’s really no central theme to this, other than the list being a little teen-centric. So let’s talk about some media!

To All The Boys: P.S I Still Love You

To All the Boys - P.S. I Still Love You official release poster.jpg

This was one of the two romance movies I saw on Valentine’s Day to remind me that I’m still alone. I’ll get to the other one later, (and boy will I get to it) but I’d say this was a pretty good substitute for a relationship. The main draw is seeing Lara Jean and Pete Kavinsky navigate being a real couple, all with the added chaos of her former crush, John Ambrose, spicing up the mix. Having not read the books, I don’t know about the faithfulness of this adaption, but I’ve seen the last film and liked that one too, so it seems to be working for me. But I’d say that what makes To All The Boys enjoyable is its characters, not it’s plot, which is pretty standard rom-com fare. Overall I highly recommend it if you need something light and sweet, like all the desserts Lara Jean make.

Cheer

I don’t know how else to say it: I do not understand cheerleading. I don’t know why it’s so big, or what attracts people to it, or why seeing countless injuries during a practice is supposed to make me admire the level of commitment a cheer team undergoes just to win a trophy in Florida. Watching this documentary only reaffirmed those feelings. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy some parts of the series. It does a really good job at establishing members of the team as people beyond the concussion-stained mat, and their stories are genuinely fascinating. Seriously, what is it with small Texas towns and competitive sorts? Can’t any of them find something else to obsess over? Maybe something more safe like video games. The second half of Cheer is the most uncomfortable I’ve been watching a show. By the end, I almost knew there was going to be at least one severe injury at the big competition, by virtue of all the other practices having one. My thoughts on this are complicated, and I could give it it’s own post, but I’ll just end it here by saying that anyone who tells their daughter to eat jack fruit is an asshole.

Like A Love Story

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When people say that this book is a love letter to gayness, they really mean it. This is the absolute gayest book I’ve ever read, and in the best way possible. This can join the ranks of all the other books I mentioned back in my YA post of examples of fresh, diverse stories that you can’t find in any other genre. You could tell by reading that the author actually spent time and effort to faithfully recreate New York in the late 1980s, complete with all the Madonna references. I think what I love most about the story, and what people should take away from reading, is that gay/LGBT people have had their own history scrubbed from existence, and the need for more gay stories to be told, whether it be through pop divas, artists, poets, writers, or activists. It is absolutely one of the gems to come out of YA in 2019.

Music I’ve been listening to

I usually don’t share my music taste on here, mostly because there’s not much to say other that “I like how it sounds”, but since 2020 started, I’ve found some artists I’ve been jamming to non-stop, so here are a few if you’re interested.

The Bravery: They’re everything I like in a band. Early to mid-aughts, indie, fast, energetic drums, and vocals you can’t help but sing along to. Their first album is loaded with bangers front to back.

Neon Trees: Why can’t more pop music sound like this? Why can’t more rock music sound like this? Why isn’t “Teenage Sounds” and “Everybody Talks” universally considered one of the best songs of the 2010s? All I know is that they’re criminally underrated. Check out their 2012 album Picture Show if you need more convincing

100 gecs: These guys are the living versions of doomers, producing absurdist electronic nonsense that also bops as hard as anything in the mainstream. I really can’t describe it using words, so as my fellow generation says, “it’s a vibe”.

After

After

This was the other movie I saw on Valentine’ Day. I highly debated dedicating an entire post to this, but decided not to because I saw it as ragging on “low hanging fruit”. I mean, the cover says it all. You don’t even need to be familiar with Wattpad’s reputation to figure out that this is bad. But I couldn’t just let this one slide without sharing my thoughts. After is what happens when a fanfic writer attempts to write something original, and fails spectacularly. (yes, the person who wrote the book was actually a fanfic writer). What amazes me is that this isn’t even the first time Netflix made a movie adaption out of a Wattpad novel (see: The Kissing Booth, which has a sequel coming out later this year). And compared to this, The Kissing Booth looks like high class cinema. There’s just so much I find wrong about this movie, and listing them all here would be somewhat satisfying, but just trust me when I say to avoid After at all costs. It isn’t even worth hate-watching out of morbid curiosity, it’s just…no. To further illustrate my point, here’s a picture of the main love interest’s final essay he writes at the end of the movie. His COLLEGE essay that he writes for his COLLEGE English class for a COLLEGE grade. You know, in COLLEGE. I said I didn’t want to rag on low hanging fruit, but my God, did anyone involved in this movie care about anything other than their paychecks?

Am I seriously supposed to believe this guy is a straight-A student when he can’t even write an essay in MLA freaking format?

I might do this again if I have a lot of stuff I want to talk about but not spend that much time on. Let me know if any of you have some more thoughts.

#books, #movie, #netflix, #young-adult

Basic Doesn’t Mean Shallow

For the first time in almost two months, I finally finished reading a book. It was Listen To Your Heart by Kasie West, and as for what I thought of it, let’s just say…it’s the reason why I’m writing this post.

There’s really not much to say about it story-wise. It’s a YA rom-com where two people get together at the end after some mildly inconveniencing obstacles that could easily be solved with two seconds of communication. Oh, and the main character likes the lake, and there’s a school podcast which is interesting until about halfway through, when it just becomes a question of “will the generic boy love interest who’s obviously calling in ever reveal himself?”, by which point you can see directly in a straight line where the story is headed. Simply-put, the book is basic. More specifically, the book is basic and shallow, the two worst combinations a book could be, besides pretentious and full of itself.

But, as the post’s title suggests, basic doesn’t necessarily mean shallow. And it’s not like I was expecting this book to be even half as deep as the lake pictured on the cover either. The most basic of stories can hide the most rich and complex themes and ideas, and be even more satisfying than an elaborate one made to challenge your mind with graduate-level philosophical questions. This premise was especially reinforced to me at the beginning of the month, when I binged all three and a half seasons of Netflix’s most adorable new sitcom about surviving cancer through the power of friendship, Alexa And Katie.

Yes, I am unironically in love with this show, just as I am with it’s distant sitcom cousin, No Good Nick. Both shows take basic story premises, and use them to make the absolute best quality television possible. They tell well-written, relateable stories, such as navigating your first day of high school or helping someone win a student election, in the most entertaining way that makes you root for its characters to succeed. They’re made for kids and families, but it never feels like they’re dumbing down plots just so younger audiences can understand them. The writers of these shows trust that anyone, from any age or background, can enjoy what they’ve written, a fact I’ve pointed out previously on this blog when talking about what makes a YA book/author truly great in my eyes.

There’s nothing wrong with writing only to please your target audience(which for Kasie West I assume are preteen girls). But it just disappoints me when I see elements that could make for a very interesting and fun story(a podcast run by teens, the lake vs. city rivalry) and have them turn out to be blander than boiled, unseasoned chicken. Even though I’m using this story as the basis for my post, I can honestly say I don’t hate it. It’s just unfortunate that the book wasn’t better, which I also can’t really blame the author for. That’s obviously the type of books she knows how to write best considering she pumps them out yearly. And I most certainly can’t blame the fans of these books. If it lines up with their tastes, and they enjoy reading them, who am I to criticize from my barely structural ivory tower? The only thing I can do is recommend stuff that I think is worth people’s time according to my own narrow tastes. (This is a really not so subtle way of me saying to check out the shows I mentioned).

If there was a point to be made here, it’s that a story being so called “basic”, should in no way turn you away from it immediately. The best forms of media, in my opinion, are ones where a lot can be gained or learned from a little. And maybe people get a lot more out of Kasie West books than I do, but the only thing I’m getting out of it is a number on my Goodreads page.

#books, #television, #young-adult

I Have Extremely Narrow Tastes, And That’s Perfectly Fine

This was originally going to be a post giving my thoughts on the latest Netflix show I watched over the past few days, pictured above. (spoiler: I love it). But since I’ve already done that before with another fantastic show, I decided to make this a little bit more personal to me. Specifically, why my tastes are the way that they are, and why I’m absolutely fine with staying in my media “comfort zone” and not branching out.

I still want to talk about the show I watched though, because it’s really good and will most likely go under the radar for people not into family-friendly teen sitcoms. Alexa & Katie is an incredibly sweet, wholesome, heartwarming show about a girl with cancer(Alexa), navigating high school with her best friend, Katie. That’s pretty much it. They go through some problems related to having cancer and normal high school stuff like dating and school dances, but everything manages to work out in the end because Alexa and Katie have each other, and there’s very little that the power of girl friendship cannot solve, including cancer.

During the first few episodes, I was wondering if the series would take a little bit more of a dramatic tone, focusing mainly on Alexa’s medical issues and the impact on her friends and family. But the further I watched, I realized that that’s not what the show’s about. This show is about living your best life in spite of whatever illnesses or conditions you may have, and showing off probably the most adorable friendship in modern television.

It’s not surprising in the slightest why I’d gravitate towards a show like this. I like stuff set in high school, I like the theme of friendship in stories, especially female friendship, and I like interesting spins on slice-of-life stories that are grounded in reality and well-written, all of which fit Alexa & Katie to a tee. But I kept thinking about what makes this show stand out from other things with a similar premise that I don’t enjoy as much. Mainly, well…Oh boy. It’s time to do some dunking.

I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help but make the connection. Let me be clear: I’ve only watched the movie of The Fault In Our Stars, and haven’t read the book. But I don’t think I need to read it to say that Alexa & Katie schools John Green’s writing in it’s portrayal of super-cool, relateable cancer teens so freaking hard, and I’m living for it. I know, they’re two different genres with different themes and whatever, but there’s no way you can tell me that Alexa isn’t an amazing icon compared to the snoozefest that is Hazel Grace. I would put a virgin vs. chad meme here, but I think I’ve already proven my point.

The interesting thing here is that on the surface, the books John Green writes should be right up my alley. Normal teen stories that make me think about the deeper complexities of life and existence? Sign me up! The problem is the importance he puts into each and every sentence, like he just wants you to know that he isn’t only writing YA, but an in-depth thesis on humanity using teenagers as his subjects. In short, I don’t feel like John Green is genuinely writing to young adults; He’s writing to young adults who’re wise beyond their years and want to pretend like they’re too sophisticated to enjoy a simple high school romance story. And if there’s one thing Alexa & Katie has over The Fault In Our Stars, it’s genuineness.

This problem can extend to the opposite end of the spectrum as well. An author whom I haven’t discussed previously is Kasie West, who writes extremely light, fluffy teen rom-coms that have very low stakes and are designed to be fun reads. I read one of her books, Love, Life, And The List, about a year ago and, to put it mildly, there isn’t much to the story, or anything at all really. It was the most “eh” book I ever read. If you like her books, that’s cool, but I just can’t enjoy something with as little substance as what she writes. And if there’s anything you can’t say about Alexa & Katie, it’s that it’s another ordinary high school show with no substance.

I guess what I’ve been trying to say for the past few paragraphs is that I have a very specific taste for media, especially pieces of media involving teens, and that not everything will automatically appeal to me based on a few characteristics. And that’s perfectly fine. One of the best things about the past few years for me is consuming all different types of media, and figuring out what I like and don’t like from there. I don’t want to feel guilty for not being into high fantasy stories other than The Last Airbender, or sci-fi stories other than The Twilight Zone and Invader Zim. I know what I like, and I will continue to seek out stuff that interests me. If that ends up being only girly YA books and family sitcoms with cool twists, then I’m fine with it. I’m sure I’ll try to challenge myself once in a while, but I’m not going out on a limb for things I know I probably won’t be into. I hope that any of you reading this do the same. Embrace your tastes, no matter how narrow or trashy or controversial they may be. And please, give this show a chance, even if it isn’t your cup of tea. Alexa & Katie is the light we need in these dark, dark times. I mean, they literally had a dance party in a hospital, and filmed it. If that’s not the ultimate dunk on The Fault In Our Stars, then I don’t know what is.

#netflix, #tv-show, #young-adult

An end of year/decade reflection

2019 has been a year. Around this time in 2018, the only goal I had was to finish my book, which wasn’t even halfway completed yet. Well, I did that back in October, along with many other things that I still can’t believe happened to me.

I’ve kind of refrained from talking about myself on here in favor of doing more creative posts, but since it’s the end of the year, and the decade, I thought I’d share some of the cool stuff I did and reflect on how much these past few months have changed me. Because I really think the past couple years have been the best of my life so far.

I started this blog

Yeah, pretty obvious one, but creating a place to share my thoughts has certainly made me realize that I just like the act of creating, whether it be fiction or a ranty, incoherent mess of paragraphs gushing about a TV show. There’s still so much I want to write about, so don’t expect the posts to go away anytime soon (unless I decide to completely focus on YouTube videos, which is far off in the future). I also didn’t expect anyone to actually read or follow my blog, so thank you to anyone who liked my posts and decided to keep up with them. I’m still pretty new to this, and I know my writing style is developing, but 2020 will have more content, hopefully more frequently, so stay tuned for what I have in store.

I wrote poetry…and performed it

Other than reading The Poet X, my only previous experience with poetry was the writing mini game from Doki Doki Literature Club (which you should absolutely play by the way) In August I signed up for this creative writing class at school, thinking I’d be writing short stories and blowing everyone away with my angsty prose. I walk in the first day, and it turns out the class is almost entirely centered around poems, and all students are required to make a 15 page chapbook by the end of the semester. It also turns out that everyone has to perform their work in front of an auditorium holding about a hundred people. The class was wild. In the end I really enjoyed it, even if I was pushed a little too far out of my comfort zone. It was nice to have people read my work and have them react in real time, which I’ve never done before. (a lot of firsts in 2019, I know). I don’t think I’ll continue with poetry, as I learned early on in the class that I am not good at it, but I guess if there’s any lesson to be taken here, it’s that you should take classes based on what interests you, and not immediately quit if it becomes challenging. Speaking of which…

I literally dropped a class because of a book

I am not a math person. This became clear to me my first semester when I took Trig. Do you ever have that feeling when you’re sitting in a class and the professor’s words are flying straight past your head? That was me, waiting the clock out and pretending that I cared about anything the professor was saying. I ended up getting a D, so I very brightly decided I’d try again in the spring with statistics. Statistics was a lot easier than trig, but the problem of not caring was even bigger this time around. I skipped a few classes, and in April, I was walking between the shelves at the library when I opened up a very special book: The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.

I read the book before, but all I can remember that day was flipping to the last page and seeing those four beautiful words: Mango Says Goodbye Sometimes. I know this sounds extremely coincidental, but reading that last page made me think of myself as a writer. I couldn’t get it out of my mind for the rest of the day, and in that same college library, I opened up one of the computers and officially dropped statistics. Even though it hasn’t even been a year since then, I see it as one of the latest defining moments of my life. The moment I realized that the book I was struggling to make progress on due to half-assing school could actually be published someday, and maybe being an author is a career I see myself doing. I went for way too long on this, but the point is that I like writing better than math and The House On Mango Street is one of the best pieces of literature ever written.

NO GOOD NICK!!!

Yes, I am still obsessed with this show. And I’m still figuring out a way to organize my thoughts into something that makes sense to the average uncultured swine who hasn’t watched it and is unaware of the glorious, scheming antihero that is Nick Franzelli. If you’re reading this and still haven’t watched it, PLEASE GO WATCH IT. I need more people to gush to. I mean, look at her, how can you not want to see this girl succeed in committing criminal activity to a live studio audience?

Starting a YouTube Channel…again

I said back in my introduction post that I tried making videos before, but stopped once I realized they sucked and were about things no one cares about. Well, I’m giving it another go, and if you search up BridgeMoney on YouTube, you’ll see that I already have my Daria post uploaded in video form (side note: copyright’s a bitch). This is more of a trial-run to see if I could take a half-decently written piece and edit it well enough to make something usable. The next video I’m slated to do is my ripping apart of Looking For Alaska the miniseries, but I want it to be a significant step-up in quality, so expect that sometime in early to mid January. There will be a point when I start making videos from scratch, but I figure what I’ve written on here is a good-enough point for me to start.

The new year(and the new decade)

I’m not really the type of person that sets hard goals for the new year, but 2020 is definitely going to be important for my creative “journey”. There’s a couple big writing projects that have been sitting in my mind for a while now, and I need to settle on one and dedicate myself to it wholeheartedly. One thing I want to make clear is that I still care about school, and my obligations there might take priority in getting out more posts/videos. But as far as my real passion is concerned, I’m fully focused on being creative. I have no idea how I’ll balance out writing fiction and my blog at the same time, but I’m confident in the fact that I’m not going to abandon this. I feel good about what lies ahead, and I hope more people will get to share it with me. Thank you so much to anyone who decides to read any of this, and if you’re interested at all in what I do, follow me on twitter @BridgeMoney17, and check out the one video(soon to be two) on my YouTube channel, also BridgeMoney. Well, that’s all I got for now. And like Mango Street does sometimes, I bid you goodbye.

World-building Is Overrated

I’ll be honest, fantasy and sci-fi are the hardest genres for me to get into. Not because I don’t like cool spaceships with lasers or fire breathing dragons, but because a lot of stories in these genres don’t have…well, actual stories beyond their world. If you write in these genres, good world building is a must. You need to make the audience believe at least a little bit that the world you’ve created is real. But what is good world building? Is it pages upon pages of town descriptions, sketches of races, and cool looking maps of your world’s geography? I say no. World building is such a misused term, and so many people, me included, don’t know a thing we’re talking about when we say we want deep, complex world building. So then what is a good example of building a world without an encyclopedia to navigate it. Well, it of course goes back to one of the greatest shows of all time, Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Everything you need to know about the world of Avatar is told to you in its minute long intro. In it, you learn:

  1. There are four elements: water, earth, fire, and air
  2. There are four nations of these elements who once lived in harmony
  3. The Fire Nation is evil and changed everything when they attacked
  4. The Avatar was supposed to bring balance to the world, but mysteriously vanished
  5. A war has been happening for a hundred years
  6. The new Avatar is an airbender named Aang
  7. Aang needs to learn all four elements in order to save the world

That’s like 20 pages of exposition all condensed into one minute of animation and voice over. And the best part? It plays at the beginning of every episode, so you don’t forget what the stakes are or why the story even matters. You are told before the first episode starts the fundamentals of the world, and every little piece of world building beyond that is just extra flavor. In other words: The focus is the story, not the world.

I hold a very strong opinion that world building alone is not and should not be a replacement for a story. The best thing good world building can do is make a story more interesting and unique, but it can never fix a bad one at its core. This is where I think I differ from so many fantasy and sci fi fans who will go crazy for anything that vaguely adds to the lore or canon of their favorite world. There’s a Game of Thrones book that literally the history of a single family, and there’s a Harry Potter book that’s literally just a history and guide to quidditch. I mean, I’m sure some people really want that, but I would never read something that’s just 100% lore.

People obsess over the lore of their favorite franchises, and I just plain don’t get it. I could care less on the detailed history of the bricks used to build the walls of a certain city or the biography of the meals most commonly eaten by foot soldiers of the empire’s third battalion in the pre civil-war era (this is why I never read any of the in-game books in skyrim). Lore bores me to all hell, and unless there’s a plot with stakes and characters to get attached to over time with a fulfilling climax and resolution, I’m not gonna care for it. Give me a story please.

Another great example of world building is, dare I say it, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (I’m not a brony I swear). I’m not talking about the later seasons, which got bogged down by too much lore that strayed away too far from the show’s original premise. I’m talking about the first two episodes, where just like in Avatar, the entire purpose of the show is perfectly laid out for you within the first few minutes.

So in the world of Friendship is Magic, there is Equestria. And beyond that, we are told:

  1. There are two sisters who rule Equestria, Celestia and Luna
  2. Celestia controlled the sun, Luna controlled the moon
  3. Luna turned evil and became Nightmare Moon, which made Celestia banish her to, well, the moon
  4. Equestria is currently in a state of harmony, unlike in Avatar.

Do you want to know the best part of this mini info dump? It doesn’t matter to the show at all. The real start of the story is when Twilight Sparkle (the purple one) moves to Ponyville and starts making friends with the other ponies. It’s about the characters first and foremost, not an ancient prophecy that will determine the fate of the universe.

My point with this is that deep world building doesn’t require you to write a mountain of expository information. Explain the bare minimum amount so the audience can follow along and add bits and pieces that are relevant and important to the story from there. What was so amazing about Avatar is that all 61 episodes did something to advance its story and characters. Even the ones that seem like filler such as “Tales Of Ba Sing Se” or “Ember Island Players” have so many subtle details that make you learn more about the world in unconventional ways, its mind blowing that this was a children’s show on Nickelodeon at one point in time.

I really should open up my tastes more and consume more fantasy or sci fi, but none of them seem to line up with what I really want in a good story, which are strong characters with personal stakes that aren’t on a grand scale. I’d love to hear some more thoughts on this, so tell me what you think in the comments. Is world building as overrated as I make it out to be? Or am I just a rambling mess? Probably both, but share your thoughts anyway.

#avatar-the-last-airbender, #fantasy, #worldbuilding

LGBT Rep. In Media: A Colorful Spectrum

Disclaimer: This post is written by a straight male who knows very little about the LGBT community

So, I’ve been consuming media for a decent amount of time now, and I’ve noticed this trend throughout the decade of the 2010’s, the one that’s guaranteed to start a discussion in one form or another. I’m of course talking about representation, and the increasing desire people have nowadays to make media more diverse. This can of worms that I just opened can go in so many different directions, but what I want to talk about is how certain pieces of media portrays their representation, specifically concerning the LGBT community. I guess this topic came up because I watch and read a lot of romances, and they’ve gotten a lot more, how you say, “colorful” in recent years. Please note: I’m not going to make any judgments on whether a piece of media’s representation is objectively good or bad. All I’m doing is giving my personal thoughts and opinions.

Keep in mind that I have no true agenda with this post. I just like talking about media I find interesting, and people are free to agree or disagree with my opinions. Now that the warning signs are out of the way, let’s get to the media, shall we?

I’m going to split these up into two main categories, alternating with each one: the rep. I like and the rep. I didn’t quite like or have problems with. Get ready, because some of these are ones I absolutely need to get off my chest.

Rep. I Like: Bloom Into You (2018)

Starting off on a high note, this is an anime that you must see if you’re into girl-girl romance (or yuri as us weebs like to call it). It’s so gentle, and sweet, and charming, and doesn’t hide the fact that the main characters are lesbians, it just hits you from the first episode and pulls you along for the ride. What I like most about this show is that both of the main characters are romantic equals to each other. That is to say, neither of them has an advantage in terms of confidence or popularity. Both of them have their own insecurities that prevent their relationship from progressing and they work towards fixing those internal issues side by side. Even outside the cute romance, Bloom Into You explores the concept of identity extremely well, and the struggles of figuring out who you are in adolescence. More romances should be written like this, and I’m glad anime has at least one shining example of a healthy yuri show.

Rep. I (don’t) like: Life Is Strange (2015)

Now this one might be a little controversial. Let me just say that I love Life Is Strange, and it’s one of my favorite games of all time, but my problem lies specifically in how they handled Max and Chloe’s relationship. Max and Chloe are great together in the game. They bounce jokes off each other constantly, they have a history that makes you care about them, and many of your choices in the game depend on how much you value Chloe as a…friend? girlfriend? I don’t know because the game doesn’t make it clear, even when the final decision you make in the game involves literal life and death. I guess I struggle with how the game wants you to define your relationship with Chloe in whichever way you want, but also make you care about her enough that you’ll be swayed to choose one ending over another. The story would’ve been better if they just decided that Max and Chloe were romantically interested in each other from the start, and not give little nods in-game to the people who ship them online. This marks a bigger issue for me in that I don’t think dropping “hints” is a good technique to tell the audience a character is gay. Thankfully this trend seems to be fading away, but I found it to be common in stories from the early to mid 2010s. Character’s sexualities had to be defined in the most foreshadow-y, roundabout way possible without actually just outright telling you, because they can’t be too direct, that would be “forcing an agenda” If you feel that you have to tiptoe around your subject matter out of fear of upsetting people, maybe it’s best to avoid the subject altogether. If only someone could go back in time and make the game more clear…oh wait.

Rep. I Like: Life Is Strange: Before The Storm (2017)

Ready for my hottest take yet? I think Chloe and Rachel are a better couple than Chloe and Max. There, I said it. Life is Strange’s three episode prequel game, Before The Storm, fixes my main criticism of relationships not being fully defined. Before The Storm has gay characters that are explicitly stated in the game, and this time, there’s much more power behind Chloe’s choices with Rachel than Max’s choices with Chloe. I feel this way because there’s much more of a romantic tone present from the beginning of the story when Chloe meets Rachel, all the way to the final choice, which in my opinion was more difficult to decide on than in the previous game. And while you could actively make choices around Chloe and Rachel being just friends, the opportunities are there to become more romantically involved, and those scenes are brilliantly done from an emotional standpoint. The main difference between Life Is Strange and Before The Storm is that Before The Storm had clear intentions with the characters. The developers wanted to show Chloe’s relationship with Rachel, and how she helped Chloe deal with her loneliness and depression before Max moved back to Arcadia Bay, and they executed that perfectly. Even if the entire game’s choices are meaningless considering the events of Life Is Strange, it still features one of the best same-sex romances I’ve seen in a video game, and the soundtrack, like the first game, is great, so I’d absolutely recommend you play both games if they seem up your alley.

Rep. I like: Pretty Much Anything Becky Albertali Writes

As a reader of YA, I’d say that Becky Albertali is one of the best contemporary authors currently working. No, her books aren’t as “intellectual” as John Green’s or as emotionally poignant as Adam Silvera’s,(though he’s definitely part of the LGBT rep. I like as well) but they’re just downright fun to read. I remember picking up The Upside Of Unrequited for the first time and being utterly astounded at the level of profanity she packs into every page. Becky Albertali is one of the rare YA authors that actually gets how teenagers speak, and can write hilarious dialogue that doesn’t come off as corny. (It also helps that she was a clinical psychologist who worked with teens) Narrative-wise, her books might be a little dumb and formulaic, but what stands out is that they’re normal stories about gay teens having fun, which is all they need to be. I could talk more about the larger themes of Simon Vs. or how much I love Leah in Leah On The Offbeat, but those are posts for another day. Side Note: What is up with Becky Albertali’s obsession with Waffle House? Is it really that good?

Rep. I (don’t) Like: Everything Sucks! (2018)

There’s this phenomenon I’ve discovered through watching this series that I aptly coined as “Rachel Amber Syndrome”. This is when, a girl, usually a loner or an outcast, has a crush on another girl, this other girl being this mysterious, starry-eyed popular chick that is into quirky hobbies like theater and is overly eccentric. It’s basically the manic pixie dream girl trope, but with 50% more lesbians. Most lesbian relationships I’ve seen in T.V are a form of Rachel Amber Syndrome, but Everything Sucks follows this formula so closely, and even though I enjoy Life Is Strange, the romance in this series, well, kinda sucks. The show takes place in this alternate reality 90’s high school where the drama geeks actually rule the social hierarchy, and the A.V club are the real nerds. The two girls who end up together, Kate and Emaline, both fall under the “Rachel Amber” type, but I seriously don’t know what the show was going for in portraying their relationship. Is it supposed to be cute that Emaline constantly bullies Kate in the beginning of the show, making her more uncomfortable in her sexuality? Is it supposed to be charming when Emaline reveals the motivations behind her behavior, which is the same cliched drama geek thing of “I can’t be my true self around others” and “I always feel like I have to put on a mask to the world” that I’ve heard a thousand times before? This is not a healthy portrayal of a relationship, whichever way you put it. I’ve seen much worse gay romances before, (see 90% of yuri anime) but this show didn’t leave a good taste in my mouth, and I hope it can be a lesson in what not to do in the future.

Rep. I Like: The Loud House

It’s pretty clear that The Loud House is the most popular Nickelodeon cartoon in a long time. And for good reason. Controversy aside, this show is a great lesson in writing good female characters that go beyond their stereotypes. The show first proved it was willing to include gay characters in an episode when they revealed Clyde’s parents, who are two men and also in an interracial relationship. The next time the show wowed me was the final few seconds of “L Is For Love”, when Luna writes a love letter to a female classmate. Unlike other supposed examples of good representation, The Loud House is actually what happens when subtlety is done right. It doesn’t need you to rely on “hints” or “foreshadowing” in order for you to get that they’re woke, it tells you simply by showing it. A more recent episode, “Racing Hearts”, is about Luna and that same classmate she likes going on a date, and it’s treated every bit as the same as if she went with a boy. Watching this makes me grow more confident in my stance that there’s no excuse for creators to not write more gay characters and gay relationships into stories. A kid’s show on a major network proved that it’s possible, and that it can be done well without “feeling forced”, so what else is holding people back? There’s this YouTuber called Lily Orchard that goes into this more in-depth, and calls what The Loud House did as “bare minimum flexing”, and I couldn’t agree more. We need to get out of this mindset that pushing boundaries an inch is considered groundbreaking, and stop praising baby steps if we want to see significant change. The Loud House is well-deserving of praise, but it’s not where the bar for representation begins or ends. And as you can see if you’ve looked ahead, people are willing to praise a pretty low bar.

Rep. I (don’t) Like: The Legend Of Korra (specifically the ending)

Yep, this is the big one. I’ve been thinking about this ever since I first watched it back in 2014, and I can honestly say now that my opinion hasn’t changed that much in those five years. It’s just not well done, and the creators shouldn’t be getting overwhelming praise for shoehorning in a gay couple in the last thirty seconds of the series. Ship Korrasami all you want, but there’s no way you can convince me that this was foreshadowed or hinted at well at all. (No, the end of book three doesn’t count.) Korra and Asami are close friends, and they’ve been close friends for most of the series, until Mike and Bryan decided they weren’t. It’s like they realized that their cartoon with a badass female lead protagonist that had been going on for three seasons wasn’t progressive enough, so they panicked and slipped in some last-second representation to make up for it. Lily Orchard also talks about this in her “Legend Of Korra Is Garbage And Here’s Why” video, which you should definitely check out even if you’re a fan of the show. This should not be the standard for gay couples in media. We can do better, and we have done better, and I’m glad this trend is changing.

I’m definitely not an expert in how exactly LGBT representation should work in media, nor am I really qualified to speak knowledgeably on these issues, but I just wanted to provide my perspective to add in the discourse. If you have your own opinions on what I’ve talked about, leave me a comment down below.

#books, #cartoons, #lgbt, #video-games

Hulu’s Looking For Alaska: Just Like The Book

Spoilers if you care

When I first heard that John Green’s emotionally profound award-winning debut novel Looking For Alaska was going to become a miniseries on Hulu, I wasn’t that optimistic about it. I thought it might be interesting to see 2005 YA put to 2019 television, but didn’t expect much beyond that. Well, after watching all eight hour-long episodes, I can definitely say that Looking For Alaska is…Look, I don’t like it, okay? I didn’t like the book when I first read it, and the series does a fantastic job of reminding me of the book, and how much I don’t like it, and how I think John Green is one of the most overrated YA authors ever, and…yeah, I have a lot of thoughts about this.

Here’s all you need to know about the story of looking for Alaska: Boy reads books. Boy goes to boarding school because of book. Boy meets cool group of friends. Boy meets quirky cute girl, who is also into books(though not the same kind as boy) Boy falls in love with quirky cute girl. Pranks, smoking and drinking, hatred of snitches, quirky cute girl [REDACTED} two-thirds through, wow deep philosophical questions about life and death bro, the end. I think that pretty much sums it up.

I watched the first two episodes of the show thinking that the story might actually become better in my eyes, that the adaptation to screen might actually make me get why so many people love it and made them cry when they were in middle school, but that just didn’t happen. I still thought Miles was the most generic, milquetoast character ever written, and I still thought Alaska was made out to be this mysterious, brooding layer-cake of a teenage girl when in reality she’s just a kiddie pool that’s barely a foot deep. Why am I supposed to feel sad for her again? Why am I supposed to care about Miles finding his stupid “Great Perhaps”, or that the dean of the school is newly divorced, or the whole conflict between the weekday-warriors and the scholarship kids, or that Lara is Romanian and has an accent. Why am I supposed to care about any of it?

I guess there are some positives, but they only come from scenes exclusive to the series. The philosophy professor having a backstory is cool, but it so obviously feels like a way to make the story less dated than it already is. The colonel’s character is a bit more fleshed out, and there’s actually a decent message about race and class during the scene with his girlfriend Sara’s Debutante ball. There’s a really cool indie soundtrack that is way better than the show deserves, filled with early aught bands like The Killers and Bloc Party. It became apparent to me about midway through that I have a problem with Looking For Alaska as a story, and nothing short of a fundamental rewrite will ever make me enjoy it more than a light 6.

The second half of the series is where I completely lost any interest I had in it being good. So much of it felt like petty teen drama to me, and as I’ve said in previous posts, I love teen drama (when it’s done well) The pranks between Miles’ group of outcasts and the weekday-warriors were so stupid and boring, and there’s this whole thing about Alaska being a rat, which is the absolute worst thing to be at Culver Creek, and how Miles and the colonel don’t wan’t to be friends with her, and I’m sitting here like, what did the weekday warriors do that was so horrible in the first place? I mean, they insult the kids on scholarship sometimes, and they got some of Alaska’s precious books wet (which she even says were mostly from garage sales), and that’s enough to warrant illegally tampering with their college transcripts? I was so confused when the colonel was trying to defend the prank to the eagle, calling it a harmless crime. He literally wanted to ruin their chance at attending college, and the eagle kindly informed him that it was illegal, yet he still wanted to fight the charge. Then there’s Alaska’s super urgent reason behind why she needs to stay at Culver Creek: her dad is mean to her and blames her for her mom dying. Okay, couldn’t the book or the series at least show me an example of her dad being abusive, so that it’s literally not a one-line explanation?

The supporting characters in the group, Takumi and Lara, don’t really do anything. Takumi’s just there to show off 2000’s fashion, and Lara gives Miles a face to suck on before he realizes that, gasp, he does indeed love Alaska. And forgive me if I’m being a little over-dramatic here, but HOW does Miles, a sixteen year old boy in 2005 with access to the internet, not know what a damn blowjob is? I seriously can’t wrap my head around it. He watched porn with Alaska, presumably knows about sex, and you’re telling me he just hasn’t seen the act before? Please, I need to know if John Green also didn’t know what a blowjob was when he was sixteen, because that scene was physically painful to watch.

Alaska’s death in the series was even more overblown and dramatic than in the book, and it didn’t make me feel anything for her, even with the added context surrounding her last moments. People are mad, people are sad, questions remain unanswered, and it ends in the same way the book did: with a pointless philosophical monologue about the afterlife and the beauty of ambiguity, and here’s John Green to pick up his literary achievement award.

I’d like to think of the “Great Perhaps” as the chance the story could’ve actually been good, which is very slim under John Green’s hand. I don’t want to rag on him too much, because he’s a pretty cool YouTube personality, and he has improved as a writer (Turtles All The Way Down is legit a good book.) But watching Looking For Alaska reminded me of how much YA has changed since 2005. It’s gotten so much better, and we don’t need to settle for sub-par stories that pretend to be deep and complex when there are actual stories a thousand times deeper than a girl smoking cigarettes because she wants to “die quicker”. We have authors like Angie Thomas, Becky Albertali, and Adam Silvera that make fun and interesting books about real-world issues that don’t make you want to reel your head back and cringe from reading. I’m sure Looking for Alaska was groundbreaking for 2005, but it came out at a time when one of the most popular YA books was The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (for real, the movie adaption is miles better than this series.) It may have been a story people needed then, but it’s not the story people need now. There are people who enjoy Looking For Alaska way more than me, and that’s perfectly fine, but I just can’t vibe with it.

I tried looking up some famous last words as a kind of ironic way to end the post, so here’s the best one I found. The last words of convicted murderer Thomas J. Grasso were used to complain about his last meal. he said, “I did not get my Spaghetti-O’s; I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this.” Likewise with this series, I did not get what I was looking for. But at least I know where Alaska is, because she’s dead.

#books, #hulu, #looking-for-alaska, #television