Anti-Environmentalism is at the Heart of Modern Conspiracy Theory
When I first started collecting conspiracy theories I never bothered to ask — and conspiracists never bothered to mention — why the Illuminati or international Jewish bankers, et cetera would bother manipulating world events to take control of the globe. It was so obvious it went without saying. Power is after all an end in itself, not a means to some other goal. Of course the Illuminati wanted power — who doesn’t?
But things have changed in conspiracy land. Today conspiracists claim "globalists" are motivated as much by environmentalism as a desire for raw power. It seems the Illuminati has gone green. The eco-Illuminati idea is absurd but also insidiously brilliant. By giving the globalists an environmental agenda, conspiracists are able to weave together every possible government action, down to the most inane local zoning board meeting, into a Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory. Never before has anyone been able to link gun control to infill development or 9/11 to bike lanes—but anti-environmentalism makes it possible.
Firing Through Hyperspace is Way Scarier than Blowing Up Planets
Every review of The Force Awaken, both positive and negative, missed the biggest bombshell dropped on us by JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan: the First Order can fire a weapon through hyperspace. Through hyperspace! Until now, weapons in the Star Wars universe have always operated at visual range. The Death Star was powerful, but needed to be in sight of its target. Because of that, the rebels always had time to prepare a counter attack or flee.
However, a weapon that can fire through hyperspace, regardless of its destructive capacity, is the ultimate weapon of terror. Cities, bases, and ships could be destroyed anytime, anywhere in the galaxy, with no warning. No one could ever feel safe, not even in the most remote edges of the galaxy. However, it seems the filmmakers were so blinded by their desire to retread the original trilogy, they missed the opportunity to tell a compelling original story about terrorism, imperial collapse, and the realities of regime change.
In the original trilogy the empire is atheistic and materialistic while the rebels, despite being a multi-species coalition, were united religiously, spiritually, and morally by a belief in the Force. This implies that the old Republic was racially diverse but nevertheless unified culturally under a single religion/spiritual belief and that the Empire not only supplanted the old political order but introduced a new dominant culture as well. The Jedi, as a kind of warrior monk in this religion of the Force, would have been central to the unified culture of the Republic.
I propose that we the fans create an alternative Star Wars prequel trilogy. Disney of course will never do this, so it's just for fun. It's fan fiction. And why? Because the biggest problems with Lucas's prequels are not the wildly ridiculous improbabilities (Darth Vader built C3PO?), or the intense dullness of trade negotiations, but in the many ways in which the prequels simply do not make sense in light of what we learned about the Star Wars universe from episodes 4, 5, & 6. So, let's write an alternative prequel trilogy! Movies that abide by the guidelines, formulas, and story logic of the original trilogy — the episodes 1, 2, & 3 that could have been, that should have been. But before we do, we need to lay down some ground rules.
I grew up among people who called themselves Biblical literalists. The alternative, I was told, was to treat the Bible as allegory. Among evangelicals in places like my home in the south, this literal vs allegorical dichotomy dominates Christian debate, but it's a false dichotomy.
The word "literalism" is a nonsense word packed with assertions that cannot be supported. Literalism is nothing more than a glitzy marketing term, a way of branding very bad ideas about the Bible as inherently better than someone else's ideas, while also dismissing any pretense of honest debate.
Fine art nature photography allows viewers to disappear into photographs, to imagine themselves in landscapes of rapturous beauty and momentarily forget their actual surroundings.
But what if a photographer has another purpose for taking pictures rather than selling fine-art prints? What if they don’t want the viewer to escape into the photograph? What if they want the viewer to help save an endangered species like the scrub jay, tear down Rodman Dam, or protect the Everglades from rising sea levels? What if their intended audience is poor, working-class people who do not buy fine art? I have some ideas.
When taking a photograph, there are three factors that inform decisions about subject and composition:
1) the audience for the photo
2) the purpose for taking the photo (aka the photo’s message)
3) the medium through which the photo will be seen.
Together, these three things form the rhetorical triangle, which is analogous to the exposure triangle. In the exposure triangle of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, a change in one affects the other two—each one tugs at the other. Raising the ISO, for example, either pushes the shutter speed up or pulls the aperture down in order to achieve a proper exposure. Similarly, changing one element of the rhetorical triangle will alter the other two.
My short story "Drawdown" will be published in the Fall/Winter 2014 issue of China Grove.
The most recent issue of China Grove featured an "in depth looks at the Soviet Writers’ Colony, Peredelkino, its formation by Joseph Stalin, its residents, its effect on modern literature, and the loss which resulted from the execution of almost a quarter of its population" as well as an interview with the author of Forrest Gump.
When I write about wild animals, I am speaking for them within the pages of a book and advocating on their behalf, in the same way that my congressman speaks for me and advocates for me within Congress. What appears on the page should not be confused with living creatures in the wild, no more so than I should be confused with my congressman.
In a representative democracy there are just forms of representation and unjust forms, (what political scientists call "illiberal democracy"). So too are there both just and unjust forms of representation within nature writing.
I'm gonna brag a little, but I think I've earned it. As managing editor of USF's literary journal, Saw Palm, I was very proud of this year's issue and we just got an amazing review from Mary Florio over at New Pages. She writes:
...The book is preciously constructed, and the contents arresting, dedicated with precision to the literature and art of the state, its denizens and diaspora. Unlike other journals, where metaphor can wheel the reader away from the centrality of theme or place, this issue is a very strong representation of what perceptions and realities a writer might assign to place. It is a great work of editorial cohesion in that the work inside all relates to Florida—even in some unexpected ways....
What laws or principles underlie every separate and seemingly unrelated cases of environmental destruction and degradation around the globe? Activists and writers like Carol Merchant have argued for one of three fundamental causes: capitalism, Christianity, and/or the scientific revolution. These supposed causes are not only demonstrably wrong, but wildly unhelpful in our efforts to save the air, lands, and waters. I have a better answer.
Critiquing a story is an important skill for creative writing students, and the success or failure of a workshop depends on how well they have mastered this skill. The success of a workshop also depends upon the active/positive participation of all members. Students sometimes complain of bad workshop experiences because their classmates have either not learned how to give a good critique, did not participate in the workshop, or did not put honest effort into their critiques.
The format of the workshop itself can be the source of bad experiences.The Iowa model replicated throughout the country divides the session into two parts: what the readers liked, and then what they didn't like. The writer is silent throughout the session, except for the very beginning when he or she reads their work aloud to the class. The Iowa model sucks, and I have a better way.
Empathy is the key to writing fiction. Authors must be able to imagine the lives of other people, to stand in their shoes, to see the world as they see it, to feel what they feel, and then put those experiences on the page so that the reader will experience them too. This fundamental belief informs my teaching, and so I was dismayed at my student's murder and mayhem during my first semester teaching creative writing.
If I wanted them to understand the importance of empathy and to stop seeing people as plot problems that could be solved with murder and death, then I needed something radical. The next semester I added a new rule to the syllabus and on the first day of class told them they could write what ever they wanted, in any genre, with one caveat: they couldn't kill anyone. Here's what happened.
In the introduction to his anthology 180 More Extraordinary Poems for Everyday, former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins wrote about “accessibility.” He says poems should begin in clarity and end in mystery.
His insights are applicable to fiction too, and they explain the brilliance of Blade Runner. Here are the best parts.
Many of my students read and write fantasy. There is only thirteen years between me and my typical student, but this is a generational difference. While the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings movies came out when I was in college, my students grew up with them as children.
It's no surprise then that I have read many, many student stories where a young person discovers they have supernatural powers, magical abilities, or is descended from a race of magical beings -- and that last part is where things get dicey because then we need to have a conversation about the word "race."
Most graduate teaching assistantships are solely for freshman composition and so teaching creative writing as an MFA student was one of the greatest opportunities I had at the University of South Florida. I had the freedom to design the course as I saw fit and chose the textbook and supplementary readings, designed the course calendar, and wrote my syllabus.
As I was designing the course, I checked out dozens of contemporary short fiction anthologies, looking for the right one to teach lessons I had in mind. I wasn't satisfied with any of them, and decided to make my own anthology.
I wasn't an art major as an undergraduate, but I had always liked drawing and thought a class would be fun. However, when I tried to register, I was denied. Art classes were only for art majors, and to become an art major I needed to submit a portfolio. At the time I was angry at such elitism, but today I understand and appreciate my exclusion. At most universities, art classes are restricted in this way. Creative writing should do the same.
I always hated poetry. I blame the way I was taught poetry in middle and high school. Poems were presented as puzzles, as verbal Rubik's cubes that I was supposed to twist and spin until I discovered their hidden meanings. (Usually these meanings were trite.)
A poem was never presented as something to experience. It was always something to analyze. That is, until grad school when a colleague introduced me to lectio divina, a Christian monastic practice of slow, contemplative, non-analytical reading, and suddenly I found myself enjoying poetry.
I love movies, so much so that during my first two years of undergrad, I watched all 400 films nominated to be on AFI's 100 Years, 100 Movies list. I figured if they were good enough to be nominated, they were probably pretty good, and that these 400 movies likely represented the canon of American film.
Watching the AFI list was an incredible journey through film, and recently, I watched Mark Cousins' 15-part, 900-minute documentary The Story of Film, itself an incredible journey through time and around the globe. After watching it, I can't help but wish someone would write The Story of the Novel and take a similar approach as Cousins.
If we say that Tolstoy or Steinbeck's novels are "true to life," we certainly don't mean that they are factual accounts, that these authors wrote non-fiction. When someone recommends a novel because it is "genuine" or "authentic" this is not an endorsement of its factual accuracy. We know this intuitively. We're talking about emotional truth.
In discussion between students and other writers, if one argues that an author should try to uncover and explore the emotional truth of a character or subject, inevitably someone will reject the argument, calling it Steven Colbert's "truthiness." After all, isn't there actual truth, which is supported by evidence? Isn't emotional truth simply what the person feels and uses to manipulate the truth? Well, not exactly.
Last night I watched Frontline’s investigation into the NFL’s concussion crisis, “League of Denial” and afterwards realized that showing this film at the beginning of the semester would be an incredible way to teach freshman composition. In addition to being a brilliant and relevant piece of journalism, one so damning it might mark the beginning of the NFL’s demise, it is an excellent demonstration of academic discourse, public discourse, and how the two intersect and relate to one another. read the entire post
In the pilot episode of 30 Rock, NBC executive Jack Donaghy explains the GE Trivection Oven's “three kinds of heat” to Liz Lemon when justifying changing her show. The “three kinds of heat” is likely a spoof of something Tina Fey heard an executive say, but it’s an accurate description of what is needed in storytelling. As a general rule when a movie, novel, memoir, or even a short story lacks three sources of heat, the plot feels thin, the pacing slow, or the characters underdeveloped. read the entire post
On each of the big three treks I’ve undertaken—the Appalachian Trail, paddling the entire coast of Florida, bicycling from coast to coast—the first two weeks were the hardest. I lost my appetite, I had to energy, and every day I doubted whether I was physically capable of the journey. And then at the end of the second week, I felt like a switch had been thrown inside me. Overnight my appetite doubled and my energy and stamina exploded. I hauled ass out of camp and felt great the rest of the day. This summer I also discovered the same was true for writing.
In a creative writing classroom, when the class discusses and analyzes a work of fiction, poetry, or creative non-fiction, the main business of that discussion is to determine why the author made the choices he or she did. Why third person instead of first? Why that word instead of its synonym? Why break the line here instead of there? Why a fragmented, nonlinear structure instead of a chronological one?
But when a creative writing student enters a literature class and asks the same questions of a text, they are told their questions are invalid, not even worth considering. The student is guilty of the intentional fallacy. It seems literature departments missed one of the great lessons of twentieth century art, illustrated by Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 “Fountain”: intent of the artist is what makes something art.
MFA students are often required to take literature courses as part of their degree. Rhet Comp students also often take literature courses if, for example, they are interested in the rhetoric of science and there is a lit course on nature writing, race science, ecocriticism, et cetera. There is not, however, a similar requirement for literature students to take creative writing classes and rarely do they take rhetoric classes. As a result, the graduate literature classroom is the most diverse place in the English department, with fiction writers, poets, memoirists, rhetoricians, and literature students sitting together around the same table. In such an environment, if the semester is going to be positive and productive, professors must be flexible in their expectations and pedagogy. read the entire post
Over the weekend, I watched the new documentary Room 237, which explores conspiracy theories surrounding Kubrick’s The Shining. Nine interview subjects discuss their wildly different interpretations of the film, each believing they have decoded hidden messages that reveal its true meaning. One believes the film is about the genocide of the Native Americans, another the Holocaust. One even asserts that deviations from Steven King’s novel are Kubrick’s confession that he faked the moon landing footage for NASA.
I didn’t learn a single thing about The Shining from Room 237. However, it did make me think about how some (probably many) students erroneously approach and interpret films, novels, poems, plays, and other works of art.
I’m big fan of House of Cards, the first Netflix original series. Of course I had to overcome my disgust at the decision to have Kevin Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood, break a dog’s
neck in the first scene of the first episode. You should never open a story with any of the following: animal abuse, child abuse, sexual abuse, or suicide. However, afterwards I was hooked and
marathoned all thirteen episodes in a week. Now that I’ve reached the end of season one, I’m left with a big unanswered question—why is Frank Underwood a Democrat?
I have a confession to make: I self-published a book a few years ago. I know. I told everyone I wanted a short cut around the corporate stiffs who didn’t share my artistic vision but really I was a talentless hack so vain, conceited, and convinced of my own brilliance that even after dozens of editors and agents told me my book was garbage, I needed to see it in print and was willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money for it. I chose the quick and easy path as Vader did, and became an agent of evil. Actually, it happened like this....
By now, every literary type who frequents the interwebs has probably seen VIDA’s survey of women in literary publications. The numbers aren’t good. Apparently, only Tin House is not sexist. Every other major literary publication has a significant deficit of female writers, whether we are talking about short fiction that appears in the magazine, the authors of books reviewed by the magazine, or the book reviewers themselves. When I saw these statistics, I couldn’t help but become self-conscious. The most recent issue of Saw Palm published only one short story by a woman, and I was the fiction editor. read the entire post
I need to face facts: some literary journals are just out of my league. While it’s a bummer to admit it, I’m not getting anything published in The Paris Review or The New Yorker any time soon. Where then, should I submit my work? Every aspiring writer faces this conundrum and our instincts tell us the solution lies with ranking journals. If only we could graph every journal along a continuum from the hardest to get published in, to the easiest. Then we could start at the bottom at work our way up, right? Well, not exactly.
Dear Orson Scott Card,
I collect conspiracy theories. I’m something of a conspiracy theory enthusiast enthusiast. I’m well aware that fifth-dimensional reptiles secretly rule the planet. I know all about how immortal Illuminati wizards control the world from their bunker at the center of the Earth. I’m up to speed on how all the blacks in South Africa will take free cab rides into the cities and kill all the whites when Nelson Mandela dies (because if they did it now it would make Mandela cry, I guess). I could tell the day it happened that the Sandy Hook shooting was a false flag operation staged by Obama in order to pass gun control legislation — I mean, it was so similar to the Dunblane Primary School shootings in Australia, it couldn’t have been a coincidence! But I never thought, Mr. Card, that I would find you, the Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author, swimming along with me at the deep end of the crazy pool. Strangely, you don’t seem to be doing it ironically.