Thursday, November 15, 2018

70. Amazon, Free Speech, and Sarcasm, Satire, and Mockery

First, let me start with a spoiler. This story ends well, and I am not mad at Amazon.

One morning in late October I discovered that Amazon had removed the Kindle edition of my new book, "The Past is Going to Suck." It hit me like a shock. I was disoriented at first, and did not fully believe what I was looking at. Only the paperback edition was available. The paperback edition arrives at Amazon from a different company, but the Kindle edition is published directly through Amazon itself.

I did a quick check around the world. Amazon UK still had both editions up. So did Amazon Australia, Japan, Italy. Both editions were up everywhere in the world except the U.S.

The book had been out for 2 months, and was selling at a modest but steady rate. How the hell could it be pulled down? I found myself asking.

I received cryptic vague responses saying things like, "We are investigating your issue."

I turned my thoughts to the content of the book; Jokes, often biting, harsh jokes, but JOKES about key moments in the history of the 20th century. The jokes often target political figures of the time.

Could my book have been pulled as 'offensive content?' I wondered.

I kept trying to get answers from Amazon, but I understood that they are a gigantic corporation, and the poor mid-level PR people respnding to my emails probably genuinely did not know the real answer.

I got vague references to things like a 'known issue' or a  'technical issue' (which could not explain why it was still up everywhere else in the world).

Had someone in the U.S. complained about my book because I had joked about  - well, who knows - Ronald Reagan? Teddy Roosevelt? The Republican Party as a whole?

I never received an answer to any of these questions.

Then, after 3 days, the book was back up. Just like that, no explanation, no changes, exacty as it was before, a mystery not so much solved, as simply passed by.

I was left to speculate and wonder; Did someone's complaint cause Amazon to pull it and put it through a full review? If so, I had to admit that they must have found no fault, realized that the jokes are jokes, that in the end they found no reason to keep the book from being available.

The whole experience caused me to sit and think about my book. I knew when I was writing it that I was at times going after some people's heroes. In the age of Trump, sarcasm, satire, and mockery are sometimes met with hostility. This response, though, only makes sarcasm, satire and mockery that much more important. While I limit the scope of the book to the 20th century (forcing myself NOT to take on anything happeneing today) I was aware while writing it, that we live in a time when mockery and satire are more important than ever.

Friends who knew what I was going through accused me of being much too patient with Amazon. "Free speech!" one of my friends kept yelling at me. "I'll stay calm," I said. "I think this will work out in the end."

My patience, and my trust of Amazon proved right in the end.

Amazon is a gigantic corporation. They have to be careful not to allow biased hate-speech to infect their website (are you listening, Facebook?). I support their caution, and their conclusion that my book is only sarcasm, satire, and mockery, even though that mockery is sure to upset someone.

Humor is not just a shield, James Thurber once said, it is also a weapon.

We are living in a time when those of us prone to using mockery as a weapon must be bold and use it unflinchingly.

We live in uncertain times. What we say has consequences. And sometimes the most important thing to say is a joke, to mock, to poke fun. Bursting poeple's bubbles, and making people laugh in the process...if I can accomplish that, I think I'm doing alright.
-Peter Wick
November 15, 2018

Monday, October 15, 2018

#69 - The Second Avenue Extension - Part 2

After all my friends dropped out of the 2nd Ave Extension in September, I stayed on to help run the new restaraunt.

A new and even more bizarre collection of co-workers settled into my life.

Big Dave and Little Dave were a couple of strange characters in their own right. Ron, the new Manager who I became Assitant Manager to, was a fairly 'normal' guy, if we define 'normal' in the loosest way possible. Everyone, though, no matter how bizarre or strange, seemed refreshingly sane compared to Bob.

To write about Bob accurately, I have pulled an old notebook, from the time, out of my old stacks of notebooks. I want to convince you first of all that I am not making anything up about Bob. This all comes from notes I wrote down at the time.

Bob was obsessed with meeting a Princess. Literally. this was his obsession. And it wasn't just about meeting her, he had to win her heart the way a person won someone's heart in the middle-ages.

"No one WINS a girl the way they used to," Bob said to me one day.

"No," I said, "we don't really live like that any more."

"We should," Bob said.

I wasn't really sure where this conversation was going, so I tried my best to act busy and distracted, but once Bob started on a topic, he refused to let it go.

"In the old Norwegian tales," he began - I knew I would not be able to escape, so I sighed a sigh of acceptance and did my best to act interested. "A guy would walk right up to a maiden - " (a 'maiden'? I thought, really? 'a maiden'?) - "a maiden he had never even seen before, and say, 'Hey, will you marry me?' And then she would tell him to fight the troll, climb a mountain and bring back the horn of a Viking, and then they would get married."

I had to wonder if he had  his Norwegian mythology right, but I decide to let it go.

Ron, our new manager, couldn't take the craziness. Believing I was the only sane person at the restaraunt, Ron often came up to me, pulling his hair, and whispering loudly, "This place is crazy! THIS PLACE IS CRAZY!"

Big Dave and Little Dave didn't help.

Big Dave hardly ever said anything. When he did open his mouth, it was usually to let out a loud, manic laugh. That was all. He would laugh like a wild maniac for a minute, then stop laughing, and turn back to whatever food he was cooking, as if nothing had ever happened.

Ron and I would usually make brief eye contact after one of Big Dave's manic laughing fits, shake our heads, and somehow just get on with things.

I don't remember much about Little Dave, other than the avocado pit he was trying to cultivate in an empty jar. Little Dave seemed more or less normal - if by 'normal' we mean he could carry on a converation without resorting to ancient mythological attitudes - until the day he was arrested.

I never knew what he was arrested for. He just didn't show up for work one day, and somehow we found out later that he was in jail.

Bob became obsessed with Little Dave's avocado pit after the arrest, as if Little Dave had died.

Ron wanted to throw the avocado pit out one day but Bob nearly lost control of himself. "NO!" he screamed. "You can't throw out Little Dave's avocado pit!"

"Why not?" Ron asked

"It's all that's left of Little Dave!" Bob exclaimed.

"It's not Little Dave!" Ron said, trying desparately to reason with Bob. "It's an avocado pit!"

"It's Little Dave!" Bob yelled back. "IT'S LITTLE DAVE!"

Ron looked at me, defeated. He threw his hands in the air and walked away.

One morning Bob came to work very excited. "I met a girl last night," he said.


"Yes, a Princess. A real Princess!"

I was curious to hear more, not because I thought he was telling the truth, but because I wanted to be entertained.

"She's a Princess of some small country somehwere. I don't rmember where. But I'm going to marry her."

"Marry her!" I said. "Really!?"

"Just as soon as I find out what my quest is going to be."

"Your quest," I said.

"Yes, I haven't spoken to her yet, but I know we will get married. I'll just have to fight a dragon, or kill the Evil Lord. Oh, this is great!"

He went off to tell Ron about his good fortune, while I turned to the sound of Big Dave laughing maniacally.

Moments later I heard Ron yell from the office, "Get out of here, you crazy fuck!" Apparently he was less open to the entertainment value of Bob's stories than I was.

The end of Bob's tenure at the restaraunt came a few days later.

Bob had failed to win the heart of his new Maiden, or worse, maybe he had never even been given a quest to win her heart with.

He began moping and dragging around the restaraunt barely doing any work at all.

Then one mornng he came to work an hour late. He was stumbling, acting a little bit drunk at 10 in the morning. He didn't say anything for a while. He put on an apron and leaned against the counter, staring blankly. He just stayed that way, staring blankly for 30 minutes. Ron and I shook our heads, the way we often did, accepting the absurdity of the monent, while continuing to do whatever work needed to be done.

After 30 minutes of silent staring, Bob, took his apron off, put on his coat, and left.

"Where are you going?" Ron asked.

"I'm leaving," was all he said.

Two days went by, and Bob did not show up for work at all.

Knowing he lived just a couple blocks away, Ron decided to go out looking for him. He found him in the neighborhood, sitting on a bench, starring up at the treetops.

Ron slowly walked up to him and said, "Bob, you have to come to work."

Bob did not look at Ron. He continued starring up at the trees. "No," said, "I don't think I should work right now."

"But you've got to come to work," Ron said.

Reluctantly, Bob came with Ron. As he entered the restaraunt, he looked around, shook his head, and said, "No, I can't work here anymore. No more work for me. No more drinking either. That's all there is to it. I gotta get outta here." and he turned around and left for the last time.

Ron watched him go and shook his head.

Big Dave let out a particularly loud and manic laugh.

"This whole goddam restaraunt is crazy," Ron said. "the whole goddam restaurant is fucking CRAZY!"

-Peter Wick
October 15, 2018

Friday, September 14, 2018

#68 The 2nd Avenue Extension - part 1

I'm not quit sure what made me think of it, or why the memory popped into my head. I was just walking down the street, letting random thoughts percolate, when the memory of the 2nd Avenue Extension stood up and planted itself in my mind.

It was the 1980's, and the dad of one of our....(were we a band? No, more than that - a gang? No, less than that - a marauding fraternity of creative and irreverent teenagers? Yes, that)...decided to go into the restaurant business. Surprisingly, he hired the bunch of us to spend the Summer remodeling the trash-heap of an abandoned restaurant he had just purchased.

Here is the Cast of Characters; Myself, 19 years old, experienced at being hired (and quickly quitting) restaurant jobs; Smitty, singer ('yeller,' more accurately) of the band Mr. Epp and The Calculations (look it up); Darren (to be fair, the person I call 'Darren' is still alive and kicking, but under a different identity, and I can only hope that the context of the story allows for the use of 'Darren'); Todd, Darren's brother, and bass player for Epp (Darren, who taught me how to be a drummer, became the band's drummer after I briefly was); Paul Morey, Darren and Todd's dad, and the owner of this whole misguided venture; Mark Arm (look up the band Mudhoney); Craig Joyce (quiet, soft spoken, but the one friend we all felt was truly brilliant); Tom Wolf (not the famous writer); along with girlfriends, hangers-on, and other occasional helpers.

Mr. Morey was a sucessful hair stylist with his own salon in the heart of Seattle's Pioneer Square.

One day, out of the blue, he announced that he was opening a restaurant.

More shockingly, he told us that we were all hired, as a group (a mistake, and we all knew it), to spend the summer remodeling, so the place could open in September.

Then he made the announcement that should have instantly doomed the whole enterprise. "Peter is giong to be the Manager."

I liked this idea, or, my ego did, but the rest of the group unanimously voiced their disapproval.

"The decision has been made," Mr. Morey said. "Peter is in charge."

To this day, I have no idea how any 'remodeling' was actually accomplished. I do not remember doing any actual work.

My entire memory from this Summer centers around destruction and breaking things.

We would show up for 'work,' as a group, at any random time of day, look at the 'to do' list Mr. Morey had for us, and then do absolutely nothing. Usually we would go downstairs to the dark, dank basement of the place and start breaking things.

I clearly remember one day when we spent a good two hours throwing weirdly shaped light bulbs at a brick wall, because we could not get over the funny sound they made when they popped.

Somehow, by the end of Summer, the restaurant had miraculously actually become remodeled. It was some sort of hocus pocus that had happened. Maybe Mr. Morey secretly brought in actual contractors to finish the job.

The restaurant opened on time in September. How? It was a true miracle.

And, true to his word, Mr. Morey made me Manager. All my friends quit, though. They were all going back to classes for the Fall, and had no interest in working in an actual restaurant...or they had no interest in working in a place where I was the boss.

My tenure as Manager didn't last long. I didn't know what I was doing. I couldn't be othered to count money. It didn't take long for Mr. Morey to recognize my lack of experience, and he quickly hired someone else, demoting me to Assistant Manager.

The restaurant seemed to function great for a while, and I worked there for the next several months.

Those next several months, though, saw a whole new cast of characters; Ron the Manager, Big Dave, Little Dave, and Bob... the reason The 2nd Avenue Extension will have a Part 2...

Stay tuned for Part 2 in October...
-Peter Wick
September 14, 2018

Saturday, July 14, 2018

#67 - Final Sneak Peek - The Past is Going to Suck

NOTE: Peter Wick's book, The Past is Going to Suck - A Time Travelers Guide: The 20th Century, will be published August 24, 2018. Check this space in the final weeks before, for updates about pre-orders

The 1950's

The 1950's were either the most absurd period in the history of humankind, or THE BEST OF TIMES, to be revered and honored forever.

Let's break things down to make it easier to keep track.

The 1950's brought:

-The Korean War

-The Eisenhower Presidency

-Joe McCarthy

-Elvis Presley

-James Dean

-The Beat Generation

-Rosa Parks


-New coast to coast freeways

-A booming economy

-The Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

All seasoned by the eternal daily threat of complete and total nuclear annihilation.

Where would you like to visit?

How about starting at a drive-in diner for some milk shakes. Then try a drive-in movie, to make out in the back seat of yor car with your 'main squeeze.' Then practice some "Duck and Cover" to survive the coming nuclear apocalypse under your desk

Very funny! Come on, people! this did NOT originally happen! Some sick practical joke played on the 20th century by time travelers...

[Be sure to check back for pre-order announcements - and look for the book to be available everywhere August 24, 2018.]
-Peter Wick
July 14, 2018

Friday, June 15, 2018

#66 Two Truths and a Lie - World Cup edition

It's 5:30 in the morning here in Los Angeles, and Ururguay and Egypt are scoreless in the first half. Of course, by the time you read this, the game will be old news.

Once every four years, life more or less stops for the World Cup. Okay, yes, we all still have to make a living and pay rent, so, annoyingly, people strill expect us to get some actual work done, but it's all secondary to what is going on in Russia over the next month.

It also means that there is only one thing I have any interest in writing about..

I have been trying to decide whether to write about that one time when I tried out for Seattle Sounders. It was several years ago, before they were in MLS. It's a true story, though. I've written about it before, but not here on Simple Displeasures, and the old post is not available anywhere right now. I think I'll save that for another time, though. What I really want to write about today, is that one time I tried - as a forward - to get past a World Cup winning defender.

About ten years ago, when I had begun a five-year stretch splitting my time betwen Seattle and L.A., I played for about four months with an amateur L.A. team named Westside Rovers. We played in a very competitive league. The league had teams with the odd retired ex-professional in their lineup. A few of the teams in this league were incredible. We, on the other hand, were sort of the 'Bad News Bears' of the league. We had some good players, but we were disorganized and haphazard.

One Saturday afternoon we lined up across from a team named Hollywood United.

With a name like that you might expect that they were damn good. It didn't take long for us to go down a goal. They were running circles aorund us.

I was a forward, tasked with finding a way through the Hollywood United defense.

The bald guy in their defensive line...that guy looked familiar to me. He seemed to know every move I wanted to make... BEFORE I made it.

That face....I recognized that face. Where had I seen this guy before?

I needed to stay focused on the game at hand, but I was distracted.

As the game wore on we fell further and further behind - three goals, four goals.

We managed a single goal of our own, thanks to a penalty kick.

Then finally it hit me!

This bald guy! This seemingly telepathic defender who knew my every move....this was Frank Leboeuf!

Frank Leboeuf had raised the World Cup trophy ten years earlier, as a teammate of Zinedine Zidane's  on the France National team.

I became a little star struck.

We lost the game...BADLY!

But I left with some sort of new bragging rights.

I never broke through to goal, but I felt okay about it. That guy won the World Cup. I should never have scored against him anyway. I mean, that would have gone against some sort of unwritten world order.

Since then I have occasionally found myself playing the game, "Two truths and a lie," with friends. I always include, as one of my 'truths' the comment that I have played with and against professional soccer players.

Everyone thinks it's a lie.

It's true.

I didn't accomplish anything going up against Frank Lebeouf, but I was out there on the field against him.

Pretty cool!

Oh, and Uruguay won the early morning game.

But this World Cup is still young. Many more early mornings to come!
Peter Wick
June 15, 2018

Monday, May 14, 2018

#65 - Make Infectious Diseases Great Again!

The festering collection of petty ten-year-old impulses that is our President often complains that 'No one is treated worse' by the press than he is.

His press coverage is 'ninety-three percent negative,' he tweets, citing a Harvard study.

Kellyanne Conway, on one of her many visits to CNN recently, used this comaplaint to avoid answering a question about - uh, no one remembers what the actual question was, because she is such a Jedi mind-master. "Coverage of this President is overhwelmingly negative," she said, weirdly seeming to suggest that this is somehow unfair.

I watched her say it. Then I waited for the punchline.

No punchline came.

So I looked at the TV screen and said out loud, "...AND?..."

First, please do not judge me for talking to CNN the way my dad used to yell at Referees when watching basketball on TV....I mean, we live in troubling times...

I just couldn't put my finger on what everyone was missing here.

Then it hit me.

President Trump complaining about negative press coverage is like the Ebola virus complaining about bad press.

It's like the Stomach Flu complaining about bad press. We never focus on the POSITIVE things Stomach Flu loss...

"I lost 30 pounds, thanks to Stomach Flu...I mean, between the constant vomiting, and the diarrhea, I had no trouble reaching my target weight. I just slimmed right down!"

We could make lists comparing things Trump is doing to the country alongside a list of things infectious diseases do to a person's body, and see how the two lists match up.

Let's start with a list of things Trump is doing:
-Using racist dog-whistle language
-Selling out the environment to the highest corporate bidder
-Separating babies from their poor, desparate immigrant parents
-Appointing incompetent, corrupt Cabinet officials
-Insulting - via tweet - anyone and everyone who disagrees with him
-Abusing his constitutionally-limited powers
-Did I mention lying?

You know what, my opinion of infectious diseases is geting better and better by the minute. Stomach Flu has its good side.

Ebola Virus has been getting a bad rap!

The idea that Trump is a 'victim' of bad press, is like totalling your parents car in a drunken after-party car race, and then complaining about how unfair it is that your parents grounded you for a week.

If you don't want negative press, maybe don't be a petty little child.

-Peter Wick
May 14, 2018

Saturday, April 14, 2018

#64 - "I'll Tell You Something ELSE you Didn't Know!"

Venice, California has every imagineable demographic.

This beautiful, bizarre neighborhood I live in contains a nearly complete cross-section of humanity.

You can find yourself walking past a million-dollar condo on one side of the street, and glance over at a homeless campout on the other side of the street.

This is 'The Fates' way of saying, to the homeless guy, "This is what you'll never have," and to the guy in the condo, "this is where you'll be living when the coke-habit catches up to you and your show gets cancelled."

My favorite - or do I mean least-favorite - part is navigating past the loud, unhinged street-yeller who wants to make sure everyone hears what he has to say.

You probably know the type of person I'm talking about. Every major city has them. This unique pocket of Los Angeles seems to attract a special breed of them

I was standing on the street corner, waiting for a walk-light to change. I was minding my own business. I just wanted to cross the street. Standing there, trapped by a don't-walk signal, I did my best to ignore an unshowered bearded guy who came up behind me and stood next to me. We stood there in silence for a very brief moment. Then he started.

"Hitler was a Jew,"  he began.

I didn't really know how to react, so I didn't react at all. I just stared across the street at the don't-walk sign.

"You didn't know that, did you?" he continued. "They don't tell you that in school. Yeah, Hitler was a Jew and General Patton was a German. They don't tell people what was really going..."

I tuned him out as he continued 'explainging' all the 'truths' that he knew that no one ever learned in school.

He got louder as he went along.

Then, finally, the light turned to 'walk.' I thought I could finally escape. I stepped out onto the cross-walk, but he stayed with me. Apparently the fact that I had not yelled back at him to shut up meant, to him, that we were now friends.

He stepped onto the street matching me stride-for-stride.

"...And I'll tell you something ELSE you didn't know," he began.

But I couldn't take anymore. Something, some evil impulse inside me, snapped. I turned on him, "No," I yelled, "I'll tell YOU something YOU didn't know."

He stopped in mid-sentence and looked wild-eyed at me.

"Mickey Mouse was REAL," I said. "Yeah, you didn't know that, did you. They don't teach you THAT in school, do they! Mickey Mouse was real, and drove a tank in World War 2, but you know who he drove a tank for? Not the Americans, not the Germans...THE RUSSIANS! Yeah, you didn't know that did you. You know WHY he drove a tank for the Russians? 'Cause he was a damn Communist! Yeah, Mickey Mouse was a REAL, Tank-drivin', Communist-lovin' RAT!"

And I turned and walked across the street.

When I got to the opposite sidewalk, I turned around and my new friend was still standing in the middle of the intersection. His mouth was dropped open. He was staring at me with a mxture of shock, surprise, and awe.

I left him there, as traffic began honking and trying to navigate around him.

My work here is done, I said to myself, and walked on down the block.
-Peter Wick
April 14, 2018

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

63. The Past is Going to Suck! - A Time Travelers Guide: The 20th Century (sneak peek #3)

Note: Peter Wick's new book, "The Past is Going to Suck" will be published summer, 2018. This is a sneak peek at the beginning of the book.

Disclaimer 1: Don’t make it worse!
The history of the 20th Century is all wrong.

Everything we know, all the famous historical events, are all mistakes. They are the result of careless time travelers trampling on the history they visit, altering it, and as a result, wiping out a nearly perfect, idyllic century in which war was nearly unknown, Hitler lived a quiet life as a bad painter, and The Cold War was a TV game show set in Antarctica.

photo credit:  By NOAA (NOAA press release) [Public Domain] vis Wikimedia Commons
The Cold War was a TV game show set in Antarctica

We at the Guide cannot stress this too strongly; please be careful with history. Once it is altered, no one, not even those who lived through it, will ever know any better.
This is not to say that the history of the 20th century didn’t happen the way it is recorded here. It did. It just didn’t happen that way when it actually happened.

Let us try to explain this another way.

This Guide tells the history of the 20th century, but it used to tell a very different history, and that very different history was of the 20th century…before it was altered…

You know what, never mind. We have decided to quit trying to explain this.

The point is, we must sadly accept the fact that the 20th century we are doomed to visit has been permanently changed from a near-perfect age, to the preposterous time that the history books now record.

So, please travel ‘incognito,’ and not ‘interactive’ (more on those options shortly).

Please! People! Do not make it worse!

(Note: look for one more sneak peek before the book is published this Summer.)
-Peter Wick
March 14, 2018

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

#62 - Women Who Have Influenced Me

We live in interesting times.

The wave of change surrounding society’s relationship with women is long overdue.

I’ve been thinking about, pondering, wondering, what is the right way to express my own thoughts on the subject, but it seems that everything is already being said, and mostly being said by women. So, I thought I would take a different approach. I decided I would sit down and make a list – it turned out to be a very long list – of women who have had an influence on my life.

I talk about the men who have influenced me all the time, but I will not list any of those men here. This is only for the women.

It’s eye-opening, even for me, to make this list, and to think about what the list says about me. I am even a little bit worried that people will too easily psycho-analyze me, reading my tendencies, preferences, and psychology based on who I include on the list.

Sometimes I will comment on a particular person listed. Often, I’ll just list names. This would go on forever if I took the time to comment on each name.

Who will you NOT see on this list? You will not see any politicians. Read into that whatever you want. I don’t include any male politicians on my list of male influences either.

Who will you see on this list? You will see a lot of strong-minded, independent, sometimes rebellious women. Everyone on this list has played some role, small or large, in influencing who I am today.

Let’s start with old-school creative geniuses.

Katherine Hepburn. Yes, I admit I’m a bit of classic old-Hollywood film nerd. Lauren Bacall, Meryl Streep (I am listing names in no particular order and allowing some free-association to come into play). Diane Keaton, Jodie Foster, Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Natalie Wood, Samantha Bee, Ally Sheedy, Carol Burnett, and Lisa Kudrow.

My mom introduced me to old-school Carol Burnett. Sometimes it was almost as if she forced the 10-year-old me to watch her. She was funny. She influenced me.

And speaking of my mom…

There is no way to put into words….I mean how do I express the influence my mom has had on me? Impossible. I’m not even going to try to write that amazing influence down in English. We would need to invent a newer better language to find the right words for that.

I will address my two sisters shortly.

Chrissy Hynde (of the band The Pretenders), Joan Jett, Janis Joplin. You see, ATTITUDE influences me. Tough women, strong women. Women with a take-no-prisoners attitude. Please do not ask me to explain this in more detail. Like I said you can psycho-analyze me from this list all you want.

Ella Fitzgerald (yep, I’m also a bit of a jazz geek, and she has the same birthday as me), Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Diana Krall, Carole King, the four women in the band Luscious Jackson - Jill Cunnif, Gabby Glaser, Kate Shellenbach, and Vivian Trimble – Kim Deal, Tanya Donnely, and the brilliantly innovative Laurie Anderson.

I would not be quite the same writer I am without the influence of the great Dorothy Parker. I have sometimes ended standup comedy sets by quoting her line, "Love your will drive them nuts." Fran Lebowitz is another writer who has infiltrated my outlook on things.

Athletes…First I want to explain a little bit what kind of influence athletes have on me. Athletes influence my attitudes about difficulty in life. The best ones inspire me and give me resolve. Getting inside the head of a great athlete as they fight to come back from a mistake or a set-back, gives a person hope and inspiration. My sister Becky, a handful of years older than me, ran a state-record High school mile once. I was in middle school. I remember watching her round the last curve of the last lap, far ahead of those chasing her. It was a truly life-changing moment. Of course, records are meant to be broken, and her record didn’t last too many years. Becky then received a running scholarship to college.  She ran for four more years, through college, and then swore she would never run again as long as she lived. Today she is a walker and a hiker. I respect these decisions.

My sister Keren, two years younger than me, has been a soccer teammate of mine. I have played amateur recreational soccer through my adult life, and for a while played with my sister in a coed league in Seattle. One team we went up against included five women who were a year removed from playing together in the NCAA, at the University of Washington. The five of them, along with their male teammates, knew each other’s tendencies and tactics quite well. They ran circles around us…and we had good players ourselves! My respect for female athletes is absolute. Here are a few famous athletes who have had some influence on my outlook and mindset; Jackie Joyner Kersey, Mia Hamm, Martina Navratilova, Michelle Akers, Tracy Austin, Steffi Graff, Monica Seles.

Before moving on I want to say one more thing about my sister Keren. She has been a collaborator, creative partner, partner in crime, and co-conspirator. No, there have been no actual crimes, but she will laugh at the comment and understand why I mentioned it.

The rest of the names on this list will be people you do not know.  Listing people who I have known in my personal life is where publishing this list gets a little complicated. I worry that I should not include certain names because of the public nature of this blog. If I want to be fair and thorough, though, I want to list everyone equally. I will try to set up the personal list this way; This list might include an ex-girlfriend or two. It includes my ex-wife. Most of them are just people who have been good friends at one time or another in my life. Some of them I am no longer in touch with. Others remain good friends today. One or two of them might hold some lingering anger towards me for one reason or another, but I will still be fair and list everyone who has had an influence on me. One of them has influenced me within the last few months. Towards the end they also become creative collaborators. I will not say anything about who is who or who fits what category.

Dorothy Frances Kent, Liz Wick, Jena Shinabarger, Cristina Grigoni (who has a different last name now), Jen Youngdahl, Natalie Vause, Elizabeth Newsom, Nancy Ndlela Papas, Deborah Nash, Liza Warfel (Mae), Roberta Orlandi, Jen Casebeer, Jennifer France Talvitie, and Debra Pralle.

That last name, by the way, Debra Pralle, besides working with me on two films, has also been a co-teacher of mine. We taught film classes off an on for a time, in Seattle, and even though we were officially co-teachers I somehow came away feeling that I was also her student. I learned a lot from her in those classes.

I will end with a few more teachers of mine; Barbara Pleuss, who after being my 6th grade teacher, somehow managed to turn up in High School as my Art teacher. Bonnie Wallace Hoffman, who in my opinion is one of the great unknown Acting teachers of all time. Carol Magnuson, who supported a few creative and rebellious high school students when they got in trouble.

I’m not counting but I believe this list has something like 50 names on it.

I would not be who I am without the influences of all these women.

It is with this mindset that I move on into the new world that is being created.

We live in interesting times.
-Peter Wick
February 14, 2018

Monday, January 15, 2018

#61 - The Problem with the movie "Hostiles."

Before I attended an industry screening of 'Hostiles' in December, I was sure that the film would have a stronger presence in the Award-season conversation than it has. I think Christian Bale is still a possible 'Best Actor' nominee, but the rest of the film probably will not (and should not) be nominated in other categories.

The fact that I feel this way is a huge disappointment to me.

I had high expectations for the film. First, I should explain that I watch for films set in the old west. Note that I do not call them 'Westerns,' which I will explain in a moment. When I first read that 'Hostiles' was coming, I targeted it as one film I most wanted to see. I looked forward to a film that perhaps did a little bit to address the cultural blind spot that has been our relationship with our Native American brothers and sisters.

I attended a screening set up for film industry people - at which I am certain I was the poorest person in the room - where the film was introduced by Writer-Director Chris Cooper, who directed one film I love, "Crazy Heart," with Jeff Bridges, and one I still haven't seen ("Blak Mass"), In his introduction Cooper discussed his inspiration for making the movie; "The racial divide in our nation," he cited, "which has only gotten worse since the 2016 election."

So, the rationale for making the film was clear; this was to be a movie about racial reconciliation, an uplifting, inspirational story that would address (indirectly, through 1800's western mythology) the possibility of racial healing.

Cooper also quoted the man he referred to as, "My mentor," the great Actor Robert Duvall. "The English have Shakespeare," Duval had once told him. "The French have Molliere. We in the United States have the Western."

I like and respect Robert Duval, but in the 21st century, I disagree with him about the Western as a genre. It is not our Shakespeare. Instead, it is an anachronistic, out-dated bastard genre that died in the 1990's, and was right to do so.

The vast majority of westerns, through the haert of its 'golden age,' (basically the whole of the 20th century) promoted and abetted a cultural genocide that still continues - despite the 'noble efforts' of films like "Hostiles" - and the film "Hostiles," itself, fails on many levels to deal with the core problems at the heart of the history.

History is where we should start. 'The Western' as a film genre is dead. Clint Eastwood killed it off with his 1992 film, "Unforgiven." In saying this, I want to be clear; Clint Eastwood killed off the genre in the best possible way; he recognized that it was a genre that had out-run its usefulness. The mythology had to be torn down. It had to be broken down into its realistic parts, and in doing so, its mytology would never be truly relevant ever again.

So, the genre is dead. All we have left is the history.

"Hostiles," then, cannot be viewed as a 'Western' film. It can only be viewed as a historical film, and as a historical film, it fails.

Being a writer who often has to deal with the Hollywood 'wisdom' regarding prevailing story-telling trends, I recognize the structure and intent of the 'Hostiles' script; personalize the grand issues. Bring it down to a personal scale. Turn the grand theme into one man's personal story.

So...we have a story about one man's change of heart. This is the character played by Christian Bale, and his performance in that context is good - very good.

On one level, it is a well written script. Structurally it is sound. The characters - not all of them....the WHITE characters - are well developed and 3-dimensional. And this is where the problems begin to arise.

In working so hard to develop Christian Bale's character, as well as Rosamund Pike's, Cooper succumbs to that most problematic trap that plagued the entire history of the western genre; he made the Native American characters two dimensional cliches.

As great an actor as Wes Studi is - and he has been my favorite Native American Actor for years - he is given the thankless job of portraying, and - as all great Actors do - developing through performance a thinly written, inconsistent character, who serves as a plot device more than as a fully developed character.

Let's start with Cooper's decision to call him "Yellowhawk."

There was a real Chief named "Yellowhawk," but Cooper's fictional character seems to bear little or no resemblance to the real historical figure, as far as I can research. So, why use the name? Because it sounds like a 'good Indian name' for a character? This smacks of cultural and historical appropriation of the most ignorant kind.

Next let's look at some historical misunderstandings in the film. The film is set in 1892. It is also established that our fictional Yellowhawk has been in prison for the past seven years. It is thus utterly impossible - and disturbing - that Cooper has two characters in a dialogue scene, discuss how Yellowhawk was at "Wounded Knee." This may seem like I'm nit-picking, but historically, you simply cannot get Wonded Knee wrong. It happened two years before our fictional story - in 1890 - and thus it is not possible for a man 5 years into a seven year jail term to have been there. In addition, this dialogue scene seems to suggest that Wounded Knee was a genuine battle, rather than the slaughter of mostly unarmed innocent civilians. I'm sorry, but Wounded Knee should be considered a fundamental moment in our nation's history, and should not be mis-construed for fictional purposes. It's that important a moment in real history.

Finally, I have to address another cliche Cooper falls into; the trap of 'good Indian' vs. 'bad Indian.' (As a side note; I will often interchange the use of the terms "Native American" and "Indian;" I do this in deference to my favorite Native/Indian writer, Sherman Alexie, who has written about growing up "Indian," "We're Indians," he has said, and I will continue to interchange the two terms unless and until instructed not to by someone I respct on the matter.) There are enemy Warriors in the film. They are the ones responsible for Rosamund Pike's character's presence in the film. They killed her family.

Wes Studi's 'Yellowhawk,' and his family play the cliche role of the 'Good Indians,' who end up tracking and killing the 'Bad Indians.'

I don't even know where to being with this. The 'Bad Indians' are given absolutely zero consideration as real people, by the other characters or, I hate to say it, by Cooper as the writer, himself.

In the end Cooper tries to write a story of personal redemption, as Bale's charater slowly comes to respect and appreciate 'Yellowhawk.' It attempts to be inspirational; we can all learn to grow in our love for those we thought were enemies.

But the historical license taken - which really seems to come from historical ignorance - gets in the way.

I had high hopes for the film, but I left the screening feeling a deep disappointment.

In this era of cultural awakening on so many different levels, across our society, it seems that our ability to come to terms with one of our most difficult historical blind spots, is still many many years from finding its real redemption.
-Peter Wick
January, 15, 2018

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