Thursday, July 31, 2014

You Mad Bro?

Always angry behind the wheel?
Maybe it’s time we looked at why.

Time for a rant, kiddies. Not a day goes by while driving in Phoenix, Arizona that I don’t get at least one stare-down from angry and distracted driver. This is when the other driver is so angry at me for some nonsense reason, that he—or even sometimes she–will mean-bug me as they drive by or if I should pass them. For the life of me, it seems like the most silliest of reasons to rage over. 

Let me paint the picture for you.

I’m not a ‘pokey’ driver. I’m commonly 10-15 mph over the speed limit. I am courteous, I always use directionals. Always. My movements are NEVER a surprise to my fellow drivers and I am fair when it comes to letting others merge or when I want merge I am sure as try and not piss-off others drivers, In 65 mph Freeway sections, I’m doing 80 so there is discrepancy about my driving. I’’ve been in two accidents. Once, one of those fancy Priuses zipped in front of me, cut me and my much larger car (a Chrysler Pacifica) totaled his. The other time, a VERY distracted driver T-Boned said Pacifica and totaled it. I walked away from both, very pissed. 

Back to the lunatics. 

So I am a decent driver. In truth, I drive as if I believe every person on the road is out to get me. Works out well. So why all the angry mugs on the road? While I am the first one to admit (as I am not pre-disposed to being right) the answer lies with them. Here are the five character types we can all identify with: 

1. The Texter. This words-before-roads communications genius is often seen on highways and at stoplights, furiously sharing important info like industrial spy secrets, hacking the NSA's servers or even solving world hunger problem. It must be one of those things because these ding-dongs can’t even be bothered to drive or pay attention. What’s more, they are furiously startled and may even share an unhappyy emoticon via hand-gesture when you beep at them.

2. The Talker. Who can be bothered driving when theres important topics to discuss like shoes, last night’s game or leaving kissy-face messages for their snuggle bunnies? Not these dopes. Driving at 15 mph in a 40 mph zone is all the rage and perfectly fine when you got stuff to say. 

3. The Startled One. This jittery dip pulls up to every stoplight, Yield and Stop Sign in the county. Is then suddenly distracted by their iPhone /Coffee / Text /radio or whatever they can find to distract them. hen when its time to go, they miss their cue and that’s when it gets weird, you or even someone behind you, honks their horn and and they practically leap out of their skin! Really? 

4. The Testosterone Fiend. These troglodytes are often driving a giant white, ozone-crushing Ford F-350, with all the fixin’s. They swerve and accelerate in and out of traffic like its a game of groans. They cut you off and won’t think twice elf it. Then they flip you off, or even better, completely ignore the fact that you’re even on the road. Oh, and as an added bonus, these d-bags are men 100% of the time. (sigh)

5. The Road Owner. You are in the presence of royalty. Yup, this member of the roadway aristocracy needs you to get do one thing and one thing only get out of their way. Often a BMW or Audi, these entitled d-bags drive with a sense of purpose. Their purpose. Which is to say, you don’t exist and they are far more special than you are because you don’t matter. See? Now you know. 

So in the end, I don’t know who’s more hostile–them or me–but in the end, is either prospect a good one? 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Superheroes and the quest for the larger-than-life man

(or what my beloved super heroes taught me that my Dad never could.)
The Avengers Age Of Ultron, Marvel, Superheores
Illustration by Arthur Milano
The phenomenon that is superhero culture has grown exponentially and I think I know why. Thus, may I present my arm chair philosophy concerning the appeal of the American super hero fantasy genre. They are urban myths, they are larger than life and they are what we all aspire to be. Men (and a few choice women) who stand tall in the face of adversity and do so even when triumph is not certain. What’s not to love?
In a world where so many men (and again, a few choice women) abandon their families it is nice to see someone step forward and commit to taking the hits for the weak, meek and defenseless. To stand strong for the weak, to be there when… okay you get the idea.
In classic literature we call a protagonist’s plight the hero’s journey. This is earmarked with tragedy, sacrifice, pain, suffering and finally, redemption. Ancient heroes were quite super as well. Perseus, Agamemnon, Achilles, Hercules, Homer. Magic and mysticism has been wrapped around King Arthur. Instead of Gamma rays and and radioactive spider bites, these ancient heroes had special abilities derived from the Gods (Zeus, Hades, Athena, etc).
The rise of the American super hero is largely due to the need for young boys looking to an ideal—for a blueprint of manhood. I speak from experience when I say that when there is no father, or father figure around, the child suffers. Trust me, in light of a bad father, like one who is abusive–in any way—often the child is better off. I mean if the Dad is there, actively engaged, encouraging, a spiritual compass, a family leader and is there to give a hug or an ass-kicking when needed. Believe me, there's nothing better for a child’s formative years.
So who were my heroes?
Growing up, I wasn’t much into sports (that would come later) and so fantasy, science fiction and comic books were where I–an only child to a single Mom–raised in the shadow of a butt-ugly divorce–went to look for inspiration. I found that inspiration in the muscle-bound, testosterone-laden super-dudes of Marvel Comics. Now and then I dug some DC books later, but all of DC’s characters–Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, The Flash among others–were largely unrelatable to me. They all seemed like perfect white men leading already perfect, privileged lives. They didn’t seem to struggle with life like Marvel’s characters. Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spiderman) was a nerd who was terrorized at school, who wasn’t popular with the ladies, wasn’t a jock and because his parents were dead was being raised by his aunt and uncle.
Now THAT was a character I could relate to.
It gets better. The X-Men, largely teenagers, had to deal with all the same problems as most American teens but also had to contend with weird powers they didn’t understand, world-conquering maniacs, giant killer-robots built to hunt them, alien attacks and crazy murderers around every corner (hmm, sound  like my old neighborhood growing up). Iron Man was a brilliant industrialist but also a raging alcoholic. The Hulk was a euphemism for rage, like a modern-day Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Powerman (Luke Cage) was an ex-pimp and street enforcer turned 'good', the Fantastic Four were a dysfunctional family of misfits and–well, again, you get the idea.
But I still haven’t answered the question yet, who were my (super) heroes? First was The Vision. A super-android who was built to destroy the Avengers, a team of haphazard do-gooders. He chose differently and eventually fell in love with, married and divorced the Scarlet Witch, a mutant sorceress and long-time Avenger. He was an android, a synthetic man, who was built to do the bidding of his robot master, Ultron–a sentient AI who was obsessed with killing off the human race but who also had a huge Oedipus complex. I was bi-racial (actually I still am) and I could relate to someone who was a part of two different worlds but fit into neither. Now don’t get me wrong, when the s#!t went down, you wanted this guy on your side. And that’s what drew me to him. In spite of his inner turmoil, he knew his allegiances. In short, he would make the correct choice.
Then there was Bishop, a big, powerful mutant super-soldier from the near future. Muscle-bound with a big attitude and even bigger guns. He was a leader and took no s#!t from anyone. And he was Black. Something else as a bi-racial kid (half black, half white) needed to see was balance. I could see someone who is strong and tough who isn’t a blonde-haired blue-eyed ideal I could never live up to. Something else I fancied about Marvel, they were diverse. The X-Men had members from Africa, Latin America, Canada, Germany, Russia. They even had a Native American strongman named Warpath! Marvel created the first black superhero in the Black Panther and frequently had their women equally powerful (or more so) than their male counterparts (single-Moms rejoice!).
These fictional characters had all the shortcomings of a regular person yet, were able to rise above their station and do extraordinary things. My father, who never once showed his face to me, was a man who I never got to know. That was his choice. Mine was to find examples of manhood that were good, solid compasses. I turned out to be a father–and eventually, sadly enough, a single Dad–who is always there with hugs, words of encouragement or the threat of a smack down when needed. 
My kids know I mean business when I say something. While I’m the farthest thing from perfect I share my love of comic books, art, movies, reading and sports with my daughter, 17, and three teenage sons. We even attend local ComiCons together. I believe in supporting my kids as much as any committed parent. I’m there for them and want to coach my kids to be the very best they can be. To accomplish acts of kinds and unselfish citizenship. To make a positive mark on the world and if at all possible, leap tall obstacles in a single bound. Just like the heroes I grew up idolizing. 
After all, would the the Vision or Bishop do any less?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

You should love advertising more

Tune in, turn it up and settle down, advertising is here to stay. Admit it, you hate advertising. Ads interrupt TV shows, your jams on the radio, they pop up on your favorite movie, game or news-based web sites. They come up on my smartphone APPs. They’re everywhere! We even have TV shows that are 'brought to us' with ‘limited interruption’ by [insert advertiser’s name here]. I was always intrigued about how ice cream, butter, diapers or a movie could ‘bring me’ anything. They’re not alive. Recently, one of my teen sons had asked me, “why do we have to sit though these dumb ads, Dad?” I told him "we just have to, son." 

Like movies? You better like product placements, then. Every time you see a Mac, a Starbucks or a BMW, you better know those companies paid a hefty price to appear in those cameos. And if they mention the product by name? Cha-ching! Makes you want to say ‘no more ads ever!’ right?

Slow your flow. Advertising is the sole reason any of these entertaining mediums even exist. 

Radio by advertising to sell products. Music and weekly serials (episodes to you youngins’) kept audiences captivated with entertaining stories, and soap operas (the term derives from soap companies sponsoring weekly radio and tv shows). Then delivering their buy-my-product message. 

Like watching TV? Same thing. Networks created TV shows that would attract viewership and then go tell advertisers how many people would see the show and sell ad space between rehearsals (or ‘acts’) of the show. 

Websites aren’t free. You can visit, pay for them and stay on them as ing as you like but the cost of server and domain name maintenance, paying people to create images, programing and written content is an expense. Thats where ad dollars swoop in, once again and save the day. 

Magazines, newspapers, comic books even your mailbox is full of advertising. You don’t need me to tell you, Its sad when the thing that created our entertainment is so completely hated by us. But know this, if advertising disappeared tomorrow, so would magazines, newspapers, the internet, television, radio, even the technology that runs your cars, phones and cameras. Everything would grind to a halt or cease to exist.

So watching that damn CGI lizard try and sell me insurance or watching hip kids dance to promote a soft drink, bubble gum or a smartphone is annoying. But let’s face facts; we’re all consumers on one level or another.

Sure, advertising can be intrusive, but considering the alternative, I guess I better those whacky Mentos kids sell me on a fruity new flavor. 

After all, Mad Men is about to start and we all must make sacrifices. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Embrace the creative you

I've long been fascinated by the beautiful and completely perplexing world of modern art and culture. Our world seems like such a better place to me with art in all it’s many forms; painting, sculpture, architecture, writing, film making and design, to name only a high-level few. 

Now maybe it’s because I spent most of my formative years drawing and painting (I had some wonderfully imaginative dinosaur drawings from age 7), spending my Jr high-school years trying to perfect drawing ‘Naked chicks’ (hey it was the early 80’s, don’t judge) an spending most of my high school non-class time, participating in plays, creating animated films, painting building-sized murals and airbrushing.

Boy do I miss those days. 

Next was five+ years of art school. I loved it! Every grueling, demanding, painful minute of it. Why? Because it wasn’t about what was right or wrong, about performance quotas (at least not in the traditional sense), it wasn’t about paying to learn crap you’d never use in the real world. No, instead, it was theory, subjection, analytics, design principles and historical events that helped shape art and societal trends. From Ancient Greece, The Roman Empire, Feudal Japan, from the depths of Africa to the heights of Egypt. It was an overwhelming and vastly exhilarating part of my life. 

These early formative experiences inform why I could only work as a professional creative. Its why I always will. Oh I have tried, believe me, to do other jobs, it is NOT possible. I have held the following positions:
  • Cook
  • Ice Cream Parlor Server
  • Maintenance Tech
  • Corporate Furniture Mover
  • Roof Painter
  • Mail Room Clerk
  • Employment Manager
  • Cashier
None of those jobs were bad. Not one one of them. They all simply showed me that I was not cut out for any of them. Sure you can ‘do’ a job. But I was NOT fulfilled by any of them–and would never be. My mind would not accept doing those jobs, its the wiring of 25 years of professional knowledge, 18 years of schooling and a lifetime of knowledge and that this is what I am meant to do. 

It’s not for everyone. 

While my daughter fully embraces a life that includes a place for creativity and art and another son who loves to write, my other two sons have no interest whatsoever. And that's just fine. 

And lastly, while I'm on the topic, I've learned creativity is a facet of how we go about our job, whatever it may be. I know what it means for me but I recognize it means different things for different people. I encourage my children to learn and do and see as much of the world and consider as many diverse cultures and careers as they can. 

It’s how they will begin to embrace their own creative personalities. There could be no more important life lesson than one that helps you know who you are. I'd explain further, but I have some more creativity to explore... don't you?