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3. Other Things Media Consumption Whimsy

Merry Eve to All

Here are Chateau Herkes, feast prep is complete & relaxation is underway.

Spouseman & I took a long walk through the neighborhood to enjoy holiday lights, the roast beast is in the oven, and we’re settled in with the 1951 Alistair Sim Christmas Carol on TV, and snax + hot cider at hand.

These are our modest holiday traditions. A couple of classic movies, and cozy time together with simple foods–ones that are easy to cook & providing of many leftovers. This year that’s ham, mashed potatoes, salad, a baked fruit dish and (of course) cookies.

Nobody has to cook tomorrow, and for days after that, we have ingredients for multiple one-pot easy meals. I mean, we still WILL cook tomorrow, but only breakfast. There will be cinnamon rolls and bacon and lots of lounging in our jammies reading books & listening to music. Another tradition.

Our seasonal purchasing & decorating were scaled back this year, due to kitten, work, pandemic, the universe and life in general. But we have our sparkly-lighted faux Yule trees, one for each floor of the house, we have lots of Christmas music, and we have new movies to watch thanks to Netflix & HBOMax.

And it all starts on the Eve. It’s been festive all day in a very quiet way.

Outdoors, there are candy cane decorations and strings of lights in the yard,  and light-up presents, too. The birds are getting extra birdseed for their holiday feast, plus some dried cranberries I found way back in the kitchen cabinet when I went rummaging after baking ingredients.

Spouseman has been downstairs most of the day enjoying the heck out of his miracle Christmas present: a PS5.

You may wonder how I scored a PS5 when they’ve been impossible to find in stock anywhere.

WELL. There’s a story, let me tell you.

TL;DR edition: I got lucky.

For months now, whenever I went onto a retail shopping site, I would throw in a a keyword search for Playstation, just on the off-chance. I got to know all the various messages of disappointment, from “Out of Stock” & “Currently Available” to “Entry will be active when stock is received.”

I was combing sites for Covid rapid tests after Thanksgiving and did my usual, “Enh, I’ll do a lookup,” and instead of one Out Of Stock entry on Costco dot com, there were unexpectedly TWO.

Curiosity is not my middle name, but that was a puzzle, so I clicked the unexpected second entry and LO, THERE IT WAS!  THE “ADD TO CART” BUTTON WAS LIVE!

Now, I wasn’t entirely sure the listed PS5 was the right version, and it came with accessories I wasn’t sure Spouseman needed, but friends, I tell you I have never clicked through a sale faster.

And after I took a screenshot of the confirmation and got the email, I told Spouseman. Because some things make good surprise presents, and some are so exciting they need to be shared right away.

OK, maybe it isn’t much of a story. But it arrived in three days, and Spouseman has been playing happily on it all day, and that makes me happy.

ANYway.Other highlights of this Eve:

All the things had to be chopped, sliced, mixed, mashed or otherwise cooked ahead are set for today & tomorrow.

Cookies have been baked.

Mr Pips halped with food prep & looked cute sleeping on his high chair. Now he’s crashed on the couch next to me.

I’ve watched all three Princess Switch movies. Silly, cheesy, lighthearted fun.

There was napping near the Christmas tree.

And this marks the second day off social media. It isn’t a long time, but it feels WEIRD not to be tossing my random thoughts onto Facebook and/or Twitter all day long.

Freeing, but weird.

That tells me I’m doing the right thing. It shouldn’t feel weird to be fully present in my own life.

And on that note, on screen Little Tim is behaving himself in church, Ebenezer Scrooge will be getting a big scare from Christmas Yet To Come very soon, and it’s time to for me to sign off.

Have a Merry Christmas, or a merry weekend, whichever. May it be full of happiness and free from stresses. May you have many books to read, and plenty of time to enjoy them.

Until later!

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Media Consumption Whimsy Writing Life

It’s Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Season

The stop-motion animated Rudolph story I grew up watching debuted on 6 December, 1964, or so says the internet. That makes this a timely post.

Every year I’m reminded how much the internet loves to hate on poor Rudolph (the TV edition) for being a tacky tale with its roots in advertising and a plot packed with of cruel, psychologically damaging life lessons. I’ve seen essays criticizing the show for being:

  • capitalist propaganda promoting consumerism & conformity
  • socialist propaganda promoting social justice and the death of Traditional Values ™
  • sexist, ableist propaganda that insists the only human value is usefulness.
  • pro-queer propaganda encouraging people to tear down social and family norms.

Those are pretty heavy messages to pull from a half-hour story about flying reindeer who transport a magic sleigh everywhere in the world overnight once a year. They’re also wildly contradictory. The think pieces only seem to agree on one point: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer isn’t a story children should watch or hear or read because they will internalize horrible ideas.

I disagree with all the nay-sayers despite agreeing with many of their individual points.

Yes, Rudolph is problematic. There’s little pop culture from that era that isn’t uncomfortable on on axis or another. Star Trek TOS holds up better than I thought, better than ST:TNG tbh. Despite being radically progressive for its time it still contains plenty of cringeworthy moments. BUT I DIGRESS.

Most stories in the 60’s that received wide distribution, especially visual stories, were landmines jam-packed full of sexist, ableist, utilitarian, Puritan messaging. To expect a commerical kid’s show to be an exception is asking a bit much.

And it’s a bit much to insist it was deliberate. Some creators did have an agenda. People were rejecting the (bogus)”traditions” which had been taught as Forever History during the post WW2 years. The grip of Boomer Mythology–the deliberate social engineering & history erasure movement undertaken by Social Leaders terrified of various marginalized groups–was already slipping.The idea of combatting dissent by doubling down is not exactly new.

But a lot of the bad storytelling came from writers putting their mundane unexamined biases & prejudices front and center of their stories. Take another Rankin-Bass “classic,” The Little Drummer Boy. It’s another one I loved as a little kid. Outsider orphan finds a place to belong after suffering & adventures? Plus magic animal companions? Should be great to revisit, right?

Ugh, no. it is unwatchable as an adult. Every last element of it is offensive and cringeworthy in the extreme. The plot is saturated with exoticism, egregious bigotry, and the worst excesses of Christian preachiness. The characters are racist caricatures, the dialogue is unbearable.

Rudolph, in contrast, holds up. It hits some of the same beats as The Little Drummer Boy (and they’re story beats that show up in my own work often enough for me to recognize my affinity for them, by the way) but it dodges the worst cultural baggage.

Oh, there are problematic elements a-plenty, from blind promotion of social & sexual norms and assumptions of what people should want to make their lives fulfilling, to a villain whose fate is to become a literally toothless minion of another character. Just to name a few.

But the basic premise — a protagonist achieving self-acceptance & pride in what others insist is a flaw, a plot that ends with them with stepping up to make sure things are better for those who come after, including and uplifting differences instead of bullying & rejecting others in turn? That theme still shines through the clunky parts.

For me, anyway. Your mileage may vary.

(In case you’ve never watched it, here’s my details-omitted plot summary of Rudolph. Child gets mocked and rejected for being different, gets no support from the adults in his life & leaves home to make his own way. Finds out he isn’t alone in being misunderstood & unwanted and makes friends. He matures, forgives the people who drove him off (in the process finding out they regretted their cruelty) rescues them from peril, returns home, and finds he is needed for the very traits people once mocked — so he makes his help contingent on ALL the rejects being included & people being accepted as they are.)

And the one trope that will ALWAYS suck me into a story is “Misfit outsider collects a band of fellow rejects and eventually save their haters despite being mistrusted and undervalued”

Rudolph’s story just reaches right in and curls up in my heart. So imma keep watching & loving it every year. And maybe accidentally writing it over and over into my fiction.

Anyway, that’s it. That’s the post.

But for your entertainment, here be a sampling of the “Rudolph Is Awful” material. Some of it is published as “parody,” some is wholly serious, and this is only a SMALL smattering of the Deep Dive Overthinking Analysis availble for the low, low cost of a few searches & far too many hours spent slogging through the prose.

https://www.ajc.com/lifestyles/holiday/rudolph-the-red-nosed-reindeer-sparks-debate-over-bullying-bigotry/dn4rYh8ctjxqhl4PuhPv2I/

https://slate.com/human-interest/2017/12/rudolph-the-red-nosed-reindeer-is-your-latest-problematic-fave.html

https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/12/19/christmas-shows-deep-questions-rudolph-charlie-brown-grinch-column/2688932001/

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3. Other Things Media Consumption Writing Life

Post-Thanksgiving Post

No worries, this isn’t a long, rambling post listing all the people I’m thankful to know, the experiences I’m grateful I’ve had, or all the physical & tangible things I’m privileged to have in my life. I’ll save that post for the alternate reality where I become hugely famous and have to give a thank-you speech in front of a live studio audience after I receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. Or something like that.

This is more like a school report on How I Spent My Weird American Holiday Thursday.

Spouseman & hibernate on Thanksgivings. Lots of reasons–for the longest time, we had no other close family in the same state, and/or the day was my single breather between 6 weeks of frantic retail holiday prep and 6 weeks of frenzied retail holiday shopping, neither of us enjoy large gatherings much…the list could go on, but ANYway. It’s just not a holiday we’re comfortable “celebrating. It has a huge identity crisis and a bunch of unpleasant cultural baggage attached. What is the day dedicated to? Pilgrims? Mayflower? Ugh, no, thanks. Gratitude? For what? Everything? <waves vaguely>

Attending mandatory large family gatherings with hefty dollops of guilt & stress, getting excited about overreating, watching NYC parades & regional football games, and plotting huge consumer spending sprees are strange traditions, that’s all I’m saying. I don’t know how most of those things are even related to gratitude, but I suspect television marketing may be involved.

BY THE WAY, DID YOU KNOW THE UNITED STATES USED TO JUST THROW “DAYS OF THANKSGIVING” ALL WILLY-NILLY, LIKE, JUST FOR JOLLIES, WHENVER THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FELT SOMETHING NICE HAD HAPPENED WORTH CELEBRATING WITH A DAY OFF? WE DID!

(Okay, there’s lots more to it, but my point is, “National Day Of Thanksgiving” didn’t start off having ANY association with harvests, bad colonialist propaganda or lies about Pilgrims, much less the whole family, food, & football traditions. Here’s a nice explainer from last year: https://billmoyers.com/story/a-national-day-of-thanksgiving/ if you’re interested.)

But. I. Digress.

In this household, the only tradition of the third Thursday in November is that I cook a lot of food that goes on steep sale this time of year, Spouseman washes a lot of dishes, we eat some tasty treats but not so much we feel sick, we game or read or watch something fun, and then we enjoy not having to deal with any complicated meal prep or food shopping for at least a week. Yay!

Here are some pics from this year’s Kitchen Fun part of the day.

Everything on the plate was from scratch this year. I even made cranberry sauce from scratch for the first time (cranberries were SO CHEAP OMG) I have a soft spot for the canned gelatinous goop, and by ignoring half the recipe instructions I was able to make mine gelatinous & goopy but nicely tart, too. It’s a big win & will be repeated.

I forgot to take a picture of the mashed potatoes in their gallon container, but tbh those don’t present well except on a plate anyway. Spouseman said he liked the rolls best because they were small & cute. They were also a late addition to the menu. It’s the world’s easiest bread recipe, quick & fun to make.

Here’s a pic from the relaxation part of the day.

Pip is good at modeling proper relaxation.

We’re re-watching Great British Baking Show from the beginning because it’s relatively wholesome & brainfree, and I’m reading Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series, also a book called Naked Statistics that I somehow missed back when it first came out. And I’m playing on the computer, and Spouseman is getting in a lot of gaming time. Today is day two of all that fine action, with a full weekend of more ahead. It’s what we do. Shopping? THIS weekend of all weekends? OH, HELL NO.

And that’s my annual Thanksgiving post. If you’ve gotten this far, I would like to use this excuse to issue thanks in print to all you wonderful people who read my blathering here, who recommend, gift, and review my existing books, and who offer continued patient encouragements to me during this ongoing, glacial, writing-the-next-book phase I’m still slogging through.

(I think that was a proper sentence. I’m not going back to change it. ANYway.)

That’s all for now. Until next time!

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Authoring Cons & Appearances Writing Life

ONLY TEN MORE DAYS UNTIL GEN CON?!

Gen Con is coming to Indianapolis Indiana, and I’M GOING TO GEN CON!!!! Four days of gaming, cosplay, fantastic art & nerdly fun. Attendance usually tops 60,000. (I take deep breaths whenever I think about the crowds. I can do this. It will be fine. I’m fine.)

I’m working the booth for my Local Game Store again for the first time in mumble-mumble years. GAMES PLUS Booth 1841 in the Exhibit Hall. Towards the back, a few rows over from the Art Show.

Big thanks to Games Plus for letting me hang out with them & sell things! Miniatures, modules, boxed games, and a ton of other incredible gaming fun stuff. All that and more. It’s a good time. The whole world goes by the booth.

We’ll even have copies of my book for sale. (this is called burying the lede. Yes, I spelled that correctly. Look it up.) Want a preview of my books? Check out the Books tab here.

Will you be at the original, longest-running gaming convention in the world, August 2 through 5? Stop by booth 1841 and say hello! I promise I won’t hard-sell. I will give you a sticker though. I have free stickers and bookmarks and loads of enthusiasm to share. We can talk dice, and superheroes, and glow in the dark gaming accessories (my personal obsession.)

But seriously. I am so stoked about this. Games Plus has been part of my writing universe for over 3 decades. I gamed there before I wrote a single story. I tested out my first novels by running the plots as tabletop RPGs for friends there. I’ve spent many a fond hour wandering the aisles, coveting fancy dice, discussing the pros & cons of rule systems, and swapping stories about fictional adventures.

And Gen Con was my first convention. It was the only one I attended for years and years. From Parkside through the Milwaukee era, and several years after the Big Move to Indianapolis. Then work  & life got in the way, and Gen Con just couldn’t get wedged in between Spouseman’s schedule and mine. <cue inspirational music> UNTIL NOW!

It’s going to be great. I AM SO EXCITED!!!

I may have mentioned that already. ANYway. See you there, if you’re going. If not, expect a report later.  It’s what I do.  I go places, and then write about them.

What’s that? Why is there a picture of a goat with this post? Oh. Um.

Why not a goat?

 

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3. Other Things Media Consumption Whimsy

Eccentric Holiday Viewing

Because I know you are all dying to know, here’s the Chez Herkes list of preferred holiday movies. It is not an “Advent Calendar of Movies.”  Blizzard binge-watching, maybe. Overall Spouseman & I usually watch at least one from each category per year. Tradition is important.
Action:
    • Die Hard(s)
    • Lethal Weapon
    • Deadpool (new addition!)
    • Batman Returns
    • Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang
    • Long Kiss Goodnight
    • Iron Man 3
    • Go
    • Assault on Precinct 13

**Shane Black is to blame for several of these. The man has a weird THING about Christmas.

Classics:
    • The Shop Around The Corner
    • The Bishop’s Wife
    • Bells of St. Mary’s
    • We’re No Angels
    • It’s A Wonderful Life
    • Christmas Carol in B&W w/Alistair Sims
    • ”  with Reginald Owen
    • all the Bing Crosby musical holiday movies: it’s a sub-genre on its own
  Offbeat/comedy:
    • The Ref
    • Bad Santa
    • About A Boy
    • Love Actually
    • Better Off Dead
    • Coming to America
    • Ice Harvest
 SF/fantasy/Animated:
    • Nightmare Before Christmas
    • Muppet Christmas Carol
    • Rise of the Guardians
    • Elf
    • Strange Days (New Year’s Eve, close enough )
    • Gremlins
    • Rare Exports
    • HogFather
    • Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas (otters!)
There are  holiday movies others love (or love/hate) that we will not watch:
  • A Christmas Story: worth special mention because I loathe it.  I could write a whole post on all the many reasons I find this movie repulsive for reasons both personal & political, but others have done such a good job I will leave that to the reader & the reader’s favorite search engine.
  • Reindeer Games. Singled out because I usually adore bad movies and dislike this one. It commits the one unforgivable sin for a bad movie: it’s DULL.
  • All the assorted Holiday Horror Flicks: I’m not against horror movies. They just don’t ring my bell, so to speak. Slapping some holly and tinsel on the genre adds nothing to its appeal.