Time to Boldly Go

Anybody who knows me will probably know that I go on about Hollywood et al having the unfortunate habit of doing the same thing over and over again. And I get it, people love familiarity, and familiarity breeds repeat business, at least until people get sick and tired of that familiarity. Hello, Disney, Star Wars, etc.

So Star Trek: Picard has been a bit of a peculiarity for me. Is it more of the same? Well, yes and no. There’s a large amount of time that exists between the last time we saw our TNG crew and the present. But that has presented its own specific problems.

The show, for all of its contradictions and subpar writing, tries its very best to come off as new and fresh. All this, while an 82-year-old Patrick Stewart struggles to talk clearly, let alone do anything else, as electrifying battles take place all around his shuffling feet. This was the first half of the series for me: Let’s do something new and exciting, but drag this poor octogenarian along for the ride for nostalgia’s sake.

For nostalgia’s sake.

It’s no surprise that Star Trek: Picard sparked thoughts of nostalgia for me. That said, it’s occurred to me only lately that there are two kinds of nostalgia: one linked to fellow humans, and one linked to the environments in which they operated. That delineation first occurred to me when I saw the big reveal of the Enterprise 1701-D.

I had tears in my eyes as I watched the ship, in its entirety, leave the hanger bay. It was as if a friend once feared mortally wounded, if not dead, suddenly walked through the front door. Here they were, smiling knowingly, welcoming a flood of positive emotions.

I never had that moment with the human components of the show. Of course, I would smile when a new old face would appear. It felt different, though. These were the same people I watched faithfully on Star Trek: The Next Generation for years, but unlike the Enterprise, they were fundamentally different.

As humans, we yearn for the past. Whether it is true or not, our brains believe that we were happier in our memories of our earlier lives. As time pushes us forward, we cling to those memories, and revel in all things that give that little spark of warmth that is nostalgia.

This is the reason we cherish souvenirs. Physical reminders of a happier time now past. We restore old cars that carried us to a happier place. We maintain old buildings filled with the ghosts of better times and much merriment.

We also cling to objects that were once owned by loved ones, now long passed. These too spark loving memories, but tinged with a feeling of melancholy, perhaps emptiness. Therein lies the difference between the two nostalgias.

Pushing aging actors to recreate what once was does create moments of nostalgia, but perhaps not in a way that the writers intended. For me, it’s been a stark reminder that we can never go back to where we were. Time will drag us all forward, degrade us, reduce us to a wristwatch in a daughter’s desk drawer.

Picard being reborn as an android is actually the perfect metaphor for what I’m talking about. Picard’s existence is brought to a fairly definitive end. They then take this once great man, beloved by many, and breathe largely clinical life into what was once dead.

What we see on the screen is not Picard, but a rough simile. The avatar of the man we once knew shuffles slowly through new, unfamiliar spaces using the heft of what he once was to stubbornly continue his journey. Told repeatedly by those who care about him that he should stop, he instead continues on in a display of ugly, at times painful, stoicism.

This Picard is not my Picard. He is but a lifeless simile. Both for the credibility of the writers and our own sanity, he should have been allowed to die his noble death at the end of season one. The younger generation of heroes should have been left to carry on his legacy, building a new web of nostalgic memories.

Instead, we ended up with this unsettling, unfamiliar version of an old friend. A stark and unwelcome reminder of our own mortality. A shambling automaton that crosses the galaxy in an attempt to reclaim what he once was, now a cold and incomplete corpse. How fitting.

Ultimately, the human aspect of Star Trek: Picard’s nostalgia was lost on me. I was encouraged to visit my grandmother one last time on her deathbed. That is now the last memory I have of her. Withered and something completely removed from the strong woman I once loved. So too now, Picard et al.

Like that moment with my grandmother, I so wish this moment with once-cherished characters had never come to pass. It would have been better to remember what once was. Sometimes it’s better to just keep moving forward, boldly or otherwise.

— John

BLOGGISH: Video Games

The good, the bad, and the present.

The recent announcement of the XBox Series X got me thinking about the state of video games in general. It also got me thinking about just how far video games have come since I was born. It also got me thinking about how fucking stupid and corporate “XBox Series X” sounds.

I was born in 1981. The neat thing about that is, by and large, I got to see the video game industry born. I watched it grow, falter, surge and change with each passing decade. Video games have been ever-present in my life, and boy, what an experience.

The first console we had was a Colecovision with the legally-dubious Atari add-on. My father used to tell the story of me sitting next to him on the floor with my own controller, convinced I was playing along. It wasn’t long before I actually was playing. My earliest memories of gaming include classics like Pitfall, Qbert, Carnival, and SMURF.

Yes, SMURF is a classic, DAMN IT.

We got the Nintendo Entertainment System when it first came out. It was the cheaper version that came with Super Mario Bros. only. The bottom even said “Model 1a” or some such. We got the light gun eventually, the rare gray one. I still have it somewhere.

Obviously, the Super Mario Bros. series was a big favorite. Contra, Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!, Legend of Zelda, Mega Man 2, Life Force, Castlevania… There are too many favorites to count. Nintendo was the cornerstone of my childhood, and my acceptance that I will rarely ever successfully beat any given video game.

“This time for sure!” – Me last Tuesday

We even eventually had the Sega Master System, then the Super Nintendo(including Super Scope 6,) Sega Genesis, and then the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation.

Oh shit you guys. I mean oh shit. Polygons!

I spent a good chunk of my childhood dreaming of the day that we would finally have video games with graphics on the level of TRON. I mean, imagine it: a game world in three dimensions! The jump to 16 bit had been amazing, and Star Fox was ground-shaking, but this was full-on earthquake territory.


Now, I wasn’t stuck at home this entire time. I was a frequent visitor to the FUN Arcade at Berlin Mall back in Vermont. Yes, it was really called FUN Arcade. I don’t judge.

That was another fun thing: dreaming of the day that home systems would FINALLY catch up to the Arcade machines in terms of graphics. How awesome would it be to finally play a home port of Mortal Kombat or Double Dragon that looked just like the original! Systems like Nintendo 64 and PS1 made that a possibility.

Which was like, SO BAD for arcades, you guys.

That was the first major change in the world of video games, from my perspective. It’s not so different from what’s happening with movie theaters today. You could get a fairly decent representation of your favorite titles at home, but had to go downtown if you wanted the full experience.

Suddenly you could squeeze the arcade into your living room! Which was great! If you weren’t arcades! As much as I enjoyed watching home systems bloom, it was crushing to watch arcades shrivel away.

It’s been fun to see arcade games make a bit of a comeback via collectors. There are plenty of games out there that never got a clean console version. An emulator will never capture that certain smell, the booming base, the glowing of the monitor that the actual machines provided.

Some day, you will be mine.

Time marches on though, as it has a tendency to do. I moved out after that generation. I was like, super-poor, so I missed out on the Game Cube, PS2, Sega Whatever-oh-shit-here-comes-the-apocalypse, etc. My next “new” system didn’t come until I picked up an XBox 360.

I was late to the game by, like, a lot. We somehow got on the subject at the place I was working at the time and Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas got name-dropped. They sounded like a fun cross between old-timey RPGs and Doom, so I picked up New Vegas. I’ve only recently put it back down.

It was INCREDIBLE! Here was this seemingly infinite world that I was dropped into, free to go wherever I want. I could do whatever quests I felt like doing(or not.) I could shoot people dead just because they annoyed me with minimal consequences, mold my character to my tastes… The world was mine!

NCR for life, bitches!
Join the NCR today!

I was so happy swimming around(sometimes literally)in the worlds of Fallout 3 and New Vegas that I just kind of shrugged when the XBox One came out. I was still pretty poor, didn’t have a lot of time, and these games are massive. Then Fallout 4 was announced.

So of course I got an Xbox One S, and of course I pre-ordered the special edition of Fallout 4, and of course I was kind of like meh? Yeah, me and Fallout 4 have kind of a weird relationship. I’ll try to explain.

What I loved so very much about New Vegas is that I could play up to any faction, and the other factions wouldn’t necessarily hate me right away. I could be an asshole or a saint when I interacted with people. I could play through the game however I chose, including the main storyline.

In Fallout 4, you, well, can’t do those things.

Factions are quick to demonize you if you sleep around, so to speak. You can’t be evil so much as just sarcastic and kind of mean. The storyline? The game all-but forces you down the linear path the game-makers prefer you to take.

Fuck you Maxson, you fucking elitist prick.

It was off-putting enough that I actually went back to playing New Vegas for like, months. I eventually picked it back up, but am starting to get burned out again. What made the earlier games fun just isn’t there, and the problem isn’t limited to Fallout 4.

This current generation of games are blockbusters in more than one sense. Millions of dollars and thousands of hours are poured into these behemoths. Because of the level of work that goes into them, they’re slowly becoming one-note adventures again.

Press X to win, follow this path for the “good” ending, miles of featureless nothing to explore… Everyone who plays games is familiar with these now well-worn tropes. What goes into games is now dictated by corporate number-crunchers, trying to discern the features and conditions most favorable to sales and the bottom line.

It all leaves me torn. Here finally is the near photo-realistic gaming experience I always dreamed of as a child, but somehow it’s all wrong. TRON’s CGI could be rendered in real-time on today’s consoles, but many of the games make the movie’s script look like Shakespeare, and offers you all the flexibility of a Choose your own adventure paperback.

It’s now an old cliche, but it’s an apt one: You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. That’s starting to sound a whole lot like the video game industry. That really stinks, you guys.


BLOGGISH: Thanksgiving

That time of year is coming around again. The day — sometimes days — where we stress the hell out about where we’re eating, who we’re eating with, what we’re doing for entertainment, what stores we’re going to after the eating and entertainment… Sounds like a headache.

What is Thanksgiving for again?

The history books would have you believe it’s to commemorate the pilgrims chillaxing with their new friends, the indians. That would be total bullshit. The basic gist is that a tribe of Native Americans, that had already encountered Europeans(and spoke some english!) were simply looking for somebody to ally with against their own enemies. The pilgrims were just opportunistic assholes.

So, in essence, you have people coming together to do something out of necessity, not because they want to. It was probably very stressful for all involved. It also ended in disaster for at least half those people.

That sounds so familiar. Hmm…

So anyway, Thanksgiving! Spend time with family! So much fun!

So, much, FUN!

It’s um… It’s not always so much fun, is it?

The whole idea of Thanksgiving has changed over the decades. It’s a day we give thanks for all we have. Hopefully it celebrates a successful fall harvest. We remind ourselves of those who help us and love us and remind them that we care about them and that they are appreciated.

Where we’ve gone wrong is that people now think there’s a fucking obligation to put up with their family, their whole family, even if half of them are a raging bag of dicks.

It’s become commonplace to read stories — survival stories, really — of the terrors of Thanksgiving with the in-laws, or even one’s own family. Some of them end with the acknowledgement that, all horrors aside, it’s well worth it to spend one more Thanksgiving with Grandma. But more and more end with a question: Why do I keep doing this to myself?

That’s a damn good question.

Humans are creatures of habit. Once they are told that this is what is done, they’ll do it forever. It doesn’t matter if it kills them. We’ve always done it this way, after all.

So if the entire clan of four-dozen family members have gone to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving for the past three generations, you damn-well better do it, too. People develop a sense of duty. You suffer for the better of the clan. The question is though, does it actually matter to the clan, beyond an act of obligation?

It shouldn’t, really. If you get along well with your entire family, that’s fantastic. If you get along well with your spouse’s entire family, then you are either Jesus Christ or fictional. Chances are that there are at least a couple of folks on either side of the family tree that you dread encountering.

The question becomes, if you are more stressed out about the people who irk you than you are excited about seeing the people you love, do you really want to do this? The answer eventually should be no, you don’t. That’s okay, and you should listen to yourself.

The time of “you’ll come to dinner and you’ll like it” needs to come to an end. If those people imploring you to come really do love you, they’ll understand if you only want to stop by for an hour. Hell, don’t even stay for dinner. Just visit Grandma and Grandpa, talk to your weird-but-fun uncle, then get out before your asshole cousin Jeb can ruin your day.

You still want a dinner? Cook it your damn self. Hell, have a bowl of cereal if you want. Nowhere in Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation does it say thou shalt devour turkey, or cranberry sauce, or whatever the hell else is supposed to be on the table. Make it a day that reflects what and who you love, what you are thankful for. Remember, that’s what the day is supposed to be about.

“Seriously, tho…”

Consider that a reminder that you should just be thankful for what and who you have, because seriously, fuck Black Friday, you guys.

I don’t have a problem with going shopping on Black Friday, per se. Most of us get excited for Christmas about ten minutes after Halloween, after all. What I have a problem with is how Black Friday is creeping into Thanksgiving.

First and foremost, the myth of Black Friday having the largest sales of the year needs to die. It’s just not true. Sale prices drop the same amount, or even lower, at other times of the year. Sometimes sales items are made extra cheap to allow for the lower price, meaning a higher chance of them failing early(flat-screen TVs, anyone?)

Salesman: “The cardboard makes it lighter! Think of the savings on gas!”

Still, you can tell people the truth and they’ll just ignore you. Creatures of habit, remember? That’s why the accursed day is now part of the Thanksgiving tradition, and now it’s crawling deep into Thanksgiving itself.

Most major retailers are opening their doors for Black Friday in the early afternoon on Thanksgiving day. Hell, Dollar General opens at SEVEN IN THE MORNING, because what do you mean the robots that we employ have lives? Hilarious!

Look, if you took my earlier advice and have decided to have your own special Thanksgiving, then knock yourself out going shopping. Just make sure you do it after doing the whole holiday shtick. Also remember to be extra kind to the employees that drew the short straw and got dropped into the battle arena.

“I was an adventurer like you until I took a Karen to the knee.”

Gods bless those brave men and women, for they face evils the likes of us could never comprehend.

Happy Thanksgiving.


BLOGGISH: The Small Things

Sometimes the greatest things are also the smallest.

I wanted to have like, something to post today. I’m trying real hard to add something to the website weekly. I know nobody is reading any of this, but some day somebody might, and I want there to plenty of bullshit for them to be turned off by.

Anyway, I had no idea what to do until I had one of those weird only-happens-in-the-movies type moments. One seemingly meaningless event led to another. That moment gave me a blog idea, and then that idea gave me the inspiration for a new page on FMZ.

It all started yesterday. The fam and I had just finished our weekly grocery shopping. I opened the trunk to find a wee little friend waiting for us on the seal, like so…


It was, somehow, alive, showing the decrepit age and condition of my car, seeing how it should have been a smudge on the seal. But nope, it was alive and well, and damn bound and determined to stay. We loaded up the groceries, shut the lid, and…

Oh, shit.

I uh, wasn’t so sure that the little guy would survive round two. We returned home. I opened the trunk, expecting a slimmer, deader moth. It not only survived, but the damn thing moved to get more comfortable.

We determined that, yes, it was still alive. Well, hot damn. Everybody loaded up with their fair share of groceries(Whomever designed our home decided the driveway should be like, thirty feet from the front door of the house.) Then it was just me, the remaining groceries, and the moth.

Now, I’m a god-damned softy when it comes to animals, no matter how small. I won’t even kill spiders unless they’re stupid enough to skitter across the kitchen floor. I did not want to kill Mr. Moth.

I wanted to be gentle, so I used a car key to nudge his little bottom. He wasn’t getting the message. So I slowly nudged the key upwards and, well…

“Dis my key now, okay?”

I’d just like to take a moment here… A lot of people think moths are scary, gross, fake-butterfly things. They are not. They are cute little fluffy puppy bugs. I will fight you.

At any rate, I put the moth somewhere safe and finished my weekly grocery routine with a smile on my face. Our new little buddy didn’t stick around long, but I’m sure he found a safe place to be. I went inside in a rare good mood.

“Wait! Is not key!”

One very-true thing about me is often-times, it’s the small things that bring me the greatest joy in life. I guaran-fucking-tee you that half the population of the Earth wouldn’t have even noticed that moth. How many would have tried to shoo it away?

How many would have cared if it got crushed?

But me… Hey, we’re all just trying to survive on this fucked up rock, aren’t we? I was fascinated by the little guy. I didn’t want to hurt him, and it genuinely made me feel good to help him survive a little longer in this cold world.

Lots of people don’t really appreciate stuff like this. People see things in a grand world view. If they see details at all, it’s in human terms. Mr. Moth is just background set-dressing. I revel in that set dressing.

Which leads me to that new page, A Different Perspective. The name says it all. I like to take “artsy” pictures from perspectives that most people would never consider. It’s like a whole other world is right there in front of us, but so few ever bother looking.

You can check it out HERE, or get at it from the menu. I’ll try to add to it occasionally, and perhaps eventually offer prints for sale. I hope you enjoy seeing things from a different perspective. Thanks for reading.