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One definition of evil is acting in your own self-interest at the expense of the interests and well-being of others. The most popular villains in fandom history challenge this definition or take it to new and interesting places. I’ve discussed the Master and Lex Luthor. Today I want to talk about the Joker.

I’ll focus on Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight. This version of the character is up there with Darth Vader as one of the most popular movie villains of all time. He has some great lines that explain his outlook on the world. He’s an “agent of chaos” and his whole thing is shaking up the system in Gotham City, trying to prove that the system doesn’t work.
There’s a theory on the Internet that the Joker is actually a hero in The Dark Knight because he’s “saving” the people from the corruption of Gotham. Respectfully…no. No-no-no-no-no-no-no! To be a hero he would need to care about people. He’s definitely evil because he acts for entirely selfish reasons.
In every incarnation, the Joker is a nihilist. He believes that the world is pointless, all life is meaningless, and the so-called system of order doesn’t work. He chooses to interpret it all as a joke. Most fans understand this. But here’s the other thing: the Joker just wants someone else to get the joke.
Ideally, he gets all of Gotham City to think the way he does. At the end of The Dark Knight, only Batman and Commissioner Jim Gordon understand his way of thinking. But that still counts as a victory for Joker.
The Killing Joke, that R-rated cartoon, is also about the Joker trying to make Batman and Jim Gordon see things his way. The Arkham video game series and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker are pretty much the same thing.
Suicide Squad is – well, barely about the Joker, but it’s about Harley Quinn. The great tragedy of Harley is she’s probably the closest canon-Joker has gotten to making someone see things his way. But she’s also in love with him, which doesn’t gel with nihilism. Neither of them are going to get what they want.
Hopefully the Joker isn’t as relatable to you as Lex Luthor is to me, but they both represent interesting ideas. If evil is just selfishness, it should be clear – Christian worldview or not – that we all have the potential to be like these famous villains.

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Twitter: @noahspud and @CorrelationBlog

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October 10 in Geek-dom: John Green’s Novels

Good morning Isaac. It’s Friday.
I think Turtles All the Way Down is going to be my favorite John Green novel. I expect the main character’s obsessive-compulsive thought spirals will be relatable to my autism spectrum neurology.

But here’s the thing: John Green is not only a young adult author but also an Internet personality. Being a fan of his books is an interesting experience for me because I’m also a fan of the Vlogbrothers, made up of John and his brother Hank.
If you watch John’s YouTube videos, you’ll be exposed to his perspective on all sorts of things, including literature. This can alter your experience and memories of his books.
For example, John has proclaimed that authorial intent doesn’t matter and books belong to their readers. This means he may put symbols and morals in his books but he doesn’t care strongly about how we interpret them. This is okay when the potential symbols include scrambled eggs and champagne and the moral is about handling the knowledge of inevitable oblivion. But before The Fault in Our Stars, there was Paper Towns.
Paper Towns is full of symbolism and metaphors. I won’t comment on the interpretations we can or should make of those symbols, but I think I know why there are so many. The moral of Paper Towns is about empathy. As I interpret it, we’re supposed to see people’s outward appearances as metaphors for whom they really are.
But if authorial intent doesn’t matter, does that include how each person “authors” themselves? In the end of Paper Towns, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl tries to deconstruct herself for the narrator (and the readers). But aren’t we supposed to deconstruct the symbolism ourselves? Does her self-awareness really count for anything? These are the questions that plague John Green fans. And I don’t have any answers. (See also The Fault in Our Books about Dying People.)
As I’ve said before, sometimes being a fan of a real person is harder than being a fan of fiction. John Green says he’s a Christian, but I’m not sure he would agree with me on some important truths like the origin of the universe or the fate of his eternal soul.
All this tells me that I need to keep real-life John Green separate from the first-person voices narrating his books.
Aren’t fandoms fun?
Isaac, I’ll “see” you on Wednesday. Hopefully.

Last Monday in Geek-dom: Autism on TV

Recently I was reading a review of a show called The Bridge – hang on. I’m going to get to the shows that premiered on Monday. Give me a second.
The Bridge is set in El Paso/Juarez, a big city straddling the USA-Mexico border. The main character has Asperger’s syndrome, and this reviewer commented on “the current trend of using Asperger’s as a substitution for creating an actual character.” That knocked my knickers, because of course I for one think people with Asperger’s have the potential to be excellent characters. Plus, Asperger’s is the perfect metaphor for a show about people from two different cultures forced to interact with each other.
Now to my actual point.
It’s always fun to see people like me (people on the autism spectrum) in fandoms I enjoy. As I’ve said, Sherlock Holmes is one example. Last Monday, three more examples hit TV on the same night.

The Good Doctor is a medical show made by the same people who made House. House is a brilliant doctor who struggles to connect with people because he’s a jerk. Sean Murphy, the Good Doctor, struggles to connect with people because he has autism. He’s a medical savant but he can’t put his brilliance into words. So far it seems like his autism is mainly a hindrance, mostly unrelated to his strengths. I hope they change that, ever so slightly, to better represent the spectrum.

Scorpion is about a team of geniuses led by Walter O’Brien, who’s inspired by real-life smarter-than-Einstein Walter O’Brien. I’m not sure if Walter is “technically” on the spectrum, but he shares Sherlock Holmes’ high intelligence/low people skills problem. He’s been becoming better at relating to people over three seasons of the show, but Monday’s season premiere made it clear there’s still work to be done. Thus the show still has a plot.

Young Sheldon is a prequel to the Big Bang Theory. If you know that show, you know what’s good and nerdy about this one. Sheldon Cooper is a freshman in high school with Asperger’s Syndrome. Also, he’s nine years old. His twin sister is hilarious. His mom is a Christian. On TBBT, Mrs. Cooper’s Christianity is played exclusively for laughs. On Young Sheldon, it’s mostly taken seriously. That’s refreshing.
So yeah, Monday was a good night for my people. It’s especially encouraging because it means people are finding different ways to show “diverse representation” other than LGBTQWXYZ+ characters.

When the Master Met Missy

I finally thought of something to say about the Doctor Who Season 10 finale, “The Doctor Falls.” It’s the show’s first multi-Master story, which is a big deal.

The Daleks may be the Doctor’s greatest foe, but the Master is the Doctor’s greatest foil. They used to be friends a long time ago (kudos if a certain theme song is playing in your head right now). But then the Master went crazy and the Doctor went a different kind of crazy. They ended up with very different views on the universe.
In the first part of the Season 10 finale, the Doctor explained that the Master is the only person he’s ever met who’s like him. Even if they’re not the only two Time Lords left, he would like them to be friends, or at least on the same side.
The Master feels the same frustration, but his/her reaction is a bit more antagonistic. They take every opportunity they get to mess with the Doctor and the people he cares about. This continues even after the Sound of Drums is gone. The drums are part of what caused their separation, and after the Master turned into Missy, she became obsessed with convincing the Doctor that they’re not so different after all.
The influence of this idea spread throughout the Moffat era (thanks to time travel). If it wasn’t for Maisie Williams’ lecture in Season 9, the Doctor probably would have gone off the deep end. But in Season 10, he managed to get Missy into therapy and tried to convince her that they wouldn’t have to be on opposing sides if she came over to his way of thinking.
In “The Doctor Falls,” the younger Master didn’t seem overly upset that Missy was becoming a good person without the Drums. His main concern was that she was friends with the Doctor. That weird little idea was the driving force in the finale. And for old times’ sake I won’t spoil the resolution.
The moral is we shouldn’t be like the Master. If we disagree with someone, we shouldn’t try to make things difficult for them. We should just lock them in a box until they start to agree with us. No wait. Maybe we shouldn’t follow the Doctor’s example either.
So there’s not much of a moral this time. I just wanted to talk about Doctor Who.

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Twitter: @noahspud and @CorrelationBlog

Jackal-Headed Death God: What Kind of Gods Are They? (Part 4)

According to Egyptian mythology, when you die, you end up in the Courtroom of the Dead. Anubis, a jackal-headed death god, puts your metaphorical heart (hush, you weren’t using it anymore) on a scale. On the other side is a feather from a magic bird.

If your metaphorical heart is lighter than the feather (because magic bird), you’re judged to be a good person and you move onto the Afterlife. The alternative is your metaphorical heart getting eaten by Anubis’ pet metaphorical-heart-eating monster.
The interesting thing about this myth is Egypt is the only culture (that I know of) that doesn’t have a description of their afterlife. No one knows what it’s like, but everyone back then assumed it was better than getting your soul devoured. Kings and queens were buried with all their stuff just in case the Afterlife turned out to be boring and they needed some valuables.
In Rick Riordan’s The Red Pyramid, a 21st-century girl goes on a date with Anubis the jackal-headed death god. He takes her to the Courtroom of the Dead (such a charmer). This girl’s role is asking questions that the readers are probably wondering, so she asks if modern-day people are surprised to see a jackal-headed death god instead of, say, Pearly Gates. Anubis responds that everyone sees what they expect to see based on their beliefs in life.
Okay, first of all: people who believe in a jackal-headed death god have to be a very small minority in the 21st century, right? So according to this book, everyone sees an illusion except the pagans and maybe the agnostics. These death gods must be really nice.
Second of all: I can’t help but wonder what atheists see in this book’s universe. Most of them expect to experience blank nothingness after death.
I’ve heard multiple people, usually referring to atheism, say “I believe X, so for me, Y is true.” Okay, in many cases, your perception of reality can be altered by what you believe to be true. But things like the afterlife don’t follow that rule. If the Christians are right, it’ll be very hard for the atheists to convince themselves that after death comes nothing. There are some things that are true no matter what you believe, and when faced with that truth you may not be able to deny it.

The Wolfman Meets Frankenstein: Penny Dreadful

Remember when I talked about the mythos of Supernatural? You may have noticed that vampires, werewolves, and ghosts aren’t part of that mythos, even though they’re most of the show’s plot.
Penny Dreadful, the Showtime series, is different. Angels and demons are replaced by werewolves, vampires, witches, and doctors with unconventional methods. Other stories have tried this, but this one uses Victorian Gothic literature.
The premise is a crossover of Dracula, Frankenstein, Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, the Wolfman, and Jekyll & Hyde. These stories become the mythos. All those characters go on to play roles in the supposedly unpublished chapters of the Bible: Lucifer’s secret backstory and the alternate apocalypse.
As is common to shows exploring Judeo-Christian mythology, Jesus and his salvation are ignored because the writers are convinced the story wouldn’t be interesting if there was a power for good stronger than human heroes or the evil they battle. But this show does it a little differently.
The two main heroes, the Devil’s ex-girlfriend Vanessa and an American werewolf in London, believe they’ve fallen too far from God to rely on him for help, so they turn to darker sources of power. Vanessa, spectacularly portrayed by Eva Green, hates turning from God but she honestly sees no hope for her soul. It’s even more tragic for Christian viewers who know that there really is hope that they just don’t know about.
From a nerd standpoint, though, it’s really clever. As the characters themselves continually admit, there are no heroes on this show. The “good guys” beat the bad guys in standard monster-hunting fare, but they all go the way of Dr. Frankenstein: less human than the monsters they create or kill. We want to watch until the end to see if they find any sort of redemption.
As a literature nerd, I have so many more thoughts about this show. There are some problems – the complete pointlessness of Dorian Gray, for example – but also some really clever things – what if Dr. Jekyll tested his formula on other people before taking it himself? And all the acting and dialogue are fantastic.
Oh, one more thing: serious adult content warning. There’s nudity and sex of every variety, violence, occult rituals, and plenty of language. Like most horror, this show is not to be binge watched all at once.

How To Win An Action Scene

I’m no action scene aficionado. I don’t know if I would recognize a bad action scene if I saw it, but I know good action when I see it. Jake Jarvi – the guy who made THIS – taught me that a good action scene includes plenty of things going on in the same place and happening very quickly, but the audience doesn’t lose track.
A good way to make sure that happens is to follow the hero and make sure he isn’t losing track of the action. That’s how most heroes win their action scenes, really. When a fight is evenly matched or even more often when the bad guy has an advantage over the good guy, the good guy wins through situational awareness.
What with the Defenders hype, I’ve had Iron Fist on the brain lately. The show had problems, but it had good parts too. One of my favorite good parts was a moment in Episode 4.
The stakes: Danny Rand needs to save his friend Joy from some Asian dudes in nice suits. If they get her down the hallway and into the elevator, they’ll probably get away. But even before that, they might hurt her. So Danny needs to work fast.
The twist: the Asian dudes pull out hatchets. Yeah. Hatchets.
Danny’s doing his Kung-Fu Fighting routine. It’s not as cool as Daredevil’s long-shot hallway scene, but it’s not bad. One guy throws a hatchet at Danny’s face and he dodges it in slow motion. As you do. Then the guy who is now without a hatchet goes into this midair tornado kick thing. And Danny kicks him in the shin. The Asian guy falls down and Danny moves on.
I rewound and replayed that moment a couple times when I first saw it. It seemed too epic for the show to move past it so quickly. The buildup…and then one kick to the shin and it’s over. Considering all the awesome martial arts we see Danny do, including the Saitama move, shutting someone down completely by kicking them in the shin seems pretty simple. But it only works because Danny knows where to kick him and knows that it will work.
The moral of the story is just what I said earlier. The good guy almost never wins by being the strongest or the most violent. He wins by paying attention.

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Twitter: @noahspud and @CorrelationBlog