first draft

It’s not enough to be; exist, persist.

It’s not enough to simply reside, 

to show the disparate parts and pieces of myself in unseemly display

or gather them close, hidden inside

Like the shameful secrets I’m told they 

are not

were not

The past is a path we travel to the people we become.

Life must have meaning, cause, purpose.

A reason

Family. Friends. Husband, child, mother, son. Sister, daughter, spouse.

Community.

Invisibility. 

Wallflowers fading from photographs, erased from history

Collective memory

I cannot erase my past

My past erases me

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Fandom-lite

I like Rick and Morty. I didn’t expect to, I’ll be honest. When my son first started talking it up to his dad and me, my impression was initially that it was another Family Guy setup, with disjointed, gross-out jokes in the “bathroom humor,” vein (as my mom used to say) and underwritten female characters who would be both maligned and sidelined.

Luckily, my son has good taste in film and tv (maybe I really should listen to his video game recommendations … except they’re all computer games, and I long for a good old couch co-op multi-player action adventure RPG.*)

Anyway, so we’re fans of the show in this house. My son, being a teenager, is somewhat more “fannish” than his dad and me. Like, we’ll catch the show, or maybe occasionally see some pop culture gossip/ news about it; our son wears t-shirts featuring the characters, listens to interviews with the show creators, keeps up with show news and airing dates, and is generally the show expert in our house.

So when he told me the Schezuan Sauce was coming back to McD’s for a limited run, my reaction was kinda, “meh.” I didn’t really like the promotional sauce the first time around, y’know?

But I love my kid, and being involved with a big group event like this can be so much fun.

Like, I’m very disappointed in the Star Wars prequels, but I still have fond memories of waiting in line with other fans– many in costume– for the midnight release of The Phantom Menace. There was a guy stalking menacingly around the crowd in a great Darth Maul costume, complete with the-then brand new and badass looking double sided lightsaber, and I borrowed a lightsaber from a Luke Skywalker and we went at it. I lost horribly, but it was fun!

Sometimes really cool things can happen just waiting in line with a bunch of shared-fandom geeks, so I figured if my son had the opportunity to connect with his fandom like that, why not?

I looked up the nearest McD’s on the “participating locations,” section of their promotional website, which my son sent me a link to. It was about 30 min away, in University Place (which, ugh, so far to drive for sauce. Whatever.)

I checked the promotional website multiple times over the next week, comparing driving times been University Place and the next nearest (Federal Way). There was about a 10 minute difference, but I was waffling on which location to choose because, as you know, actual driving time really comes down to traffic. The big question for me was which route would be more congested? In the end, I chose University Place.

… like McD’s, I did not quite anticipate the scale of response. I mean, I did, somewhat– I anticipated there would be lines, and even the possibility we could miss out because we didn’t head out until about 12:45 (so we should’ve arrived about 45 min early).

Hey, I was willing to indulge my son’s fandom up to a limit, but I wasn’t gonna camp out at a McD’s for hours and hours on end for some freaking sauce.

I figured we’d arrive 30-45 min early, wait behind the line of probably 25-50 hardcore camp-out fans, and most people would roll up around 1:45, 1:50, or later. You’re probably laughing if you’ve read the crowd reports from other major cities, but this actually turned out pretty accurate for our area.

So we rolled up at the participating University Place McD’s a little before 1:30 (traffic on I-5), parked, and went inside … where some waiting fans informed us there was no sauce at this location.

It turns out, McD’s promotional website was poorly designed. Unfortunately, I didn’t take screengrabs, but basically, on the website, the user was told that in order to see who was partipating in the promotion, they needed to choose their state, and then select from a drop-down list of pre-selected cities/ locations. The user would choose the city/ location, and McD’s promotional website would show the address of the participating location.

Both me and my son, like many other fans, assumed this process was guiding us to a location with Schezuan Sauce. That was not the case, as the warning-off fans at the UP McD’s explained. They showed us how if we chose Federal Way as our city, two partipating McD options were available– but when you clicked on a location to bring up more info, only one of those locations had a notation in bolded text stating it had Schezuan Sauce. That was when we (and, it seems, about when many others) first realized not all promotional locations would actually have the promotional sauce.

As my son and I left, I heard another fan angrily accusing the nice kid warning people off of lying in order to hoard sauce. Some people.

Anyway, we reached the Fed Way location just after 2 pm. Like 2:02. There was a line stretching out the door and halfway around the parking lot– maybe 50-75 people? My son and I got in line anyway– him excited to be around other fans, me sort of long-suffering and hungry.

Almost immediately, a McDs employee came out and explained they’d handed out numbers and all the sauce was gone.

So we left. I grabbed some McD’s at a non-promotional location (no line!) and got some sweet n sour sauce, which is fucking delicious. My son had a pleasant interaction with other fans, got a fast food treat, and we had a fun afternoon driving around together and talking. I mean, it wasn’t a terrible day.

In the aftermath of the botched promotion (admittedly very poorly handled), we’ve been– by turns– amused and dismayed by the fan reaction covered in the media. Like, it’s a cool show, but entitled and awful fan behavior is making it embarrassing to identify as a fan.

And honestly, it’s not just Rick and Morty. There was a sweet spot of geekdom for while there when self-identifying as a trivia-memorizing, cosplaying, fanfic-writing, convention-attending fan wasn’t necessarily embarrassing. It could even lead to careers– as actors, models, photographers, artists, designers, writers, editors, and/ or commentators.

But lately, I dunno … it almost feels embarrassing again to admit I’m a fan of geeky things, because I don’t want to be lumped in with fan behavior and culture. It’s more like, “Man, I’d love to talk to other people who love this book/ film/ show/ game, but that’s all.”

I’m not really into rioting over a show reference, or campaigning to ban the publication of fictional books I haven’t read. I don’t understand this behavior, even when frustrated with the franchise/ property.

Like, take Star Trek: Discovery. Now, I love Star Trek, but I’m admittedly not super stoked about this one, mainly because:

  • It’s a prequel Trek (takes place before ST: TOS).
  • The Klingons.
  • Only available through CBS All Access (not Hulu or Netflix).

So, first off: confession time. I haven’t seen the films made between 1979-2002. I did see the “reboot”/ Kelvin timeline films. I mean … eh.

Mostly I’m a TV show fan. Specifically for the 90’s-era Treks, which I think had the strongest storytelling of the series. Personally, I think the narrative devices of the replicator, holodeck, and transporter vastly improved ST:TNG, ST:DS9, and ST:V (the 24th century Treks) over the prequel Treks, mainly because resource allocation and hoarding is the primary driver of inequality. With the societal problems of equitable access to food, clothing, and swift transportation resolved via the transporter and replicator technologies, the 90s Treks were free to explore social inequality (economic, racial, and gendered) from an academic perspective– through allegory (stories where androids, aliens, and holo-doctors play the role of societal “other”), holodeck activities, and straight-up time travel.

Basically, I like 90s Trek because instead of being stymied by the lack of conflict presented by the (imperfectly posited, I’ll allow) egalitarian society, they instead found the freedom to successfully explore issues the prequel-setting Treks consistently fail to mine.

That’s not for lack of trying, mind you– I’ll give you that. And as everyone always points out to me, ST: TOS was indeed very progressive for its time, no matter how retrograde it looks now. The thing is, the 90’s Treks aired some two decades after “progressive-for-its time” Original Series, and were (rightly) updated to facilitate better and more relevant storytelling. It was a formula that worked! We should’ve stayed in the 24th century with ongoing Treks– if anything, continued forward in time!

Instead, there was Star Trek: Enterprise, featuring Captain Archer. The first of the prequels, predating even the original series, it failed in it’s rare and clumsy attempts to allegorically address social and political issues of the day.

However, since introduced the Andorans, successfully explained the visual difference between TOS Klingons and 90’s Klingons, which even (canonically) accounted for Worf’s explanation/ non-explanation of, “We do not like to talk about it,” in ST: DS9’s “Trials and Tribble-attions,” and answered (to my headcanon satisfaction) the question of why Captain Archer got to take Porthos, but Captain Janeway had to leave Mollie behind (because Captain Archer’s horribly entitled and irresponsible behavior with Porthos must have led to Starfleet banning dogs on board), I’m okay with Enterprise.

Then there were the reboot/ Kelvin timeline films, which didn’t exactly tread new ground (and in some ways were less progressive than their tv-predecessor of some 3 decades prior).

Then Discovery was announced, and yeah, I was excited– another female captain (it’s been too long!), a diverse cast, and best of all, a tv series instead of a film! But then I learned it was yet another prequel (predating, again, even TOS, but after Enterprise), and ugh. Blegh.

I mean, I still kinda want to check it out? Except it’s only available through that CBS all access thing, and I’m getting so burnt out on every channel thinking their channel library selection is worth the subscription prices of Hulu or Netflix (which actually have variety). Even so, I was still kinda thinking I might check it out– get a trial month or 1 month subscription and binge the series– but then I clocked the Klingon redesign and my interest in Discovery is pretty dead.

I’m still a Star Trek fan, but I just don’t like the 23rd-century ones as much. I’m bummed Discovery doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve been watching The Orville. I have not been rioting, threatening Star Trek writers, or threatening to sue.

In the end, it’s a creative property. As fans, we can engage (or not). We can say when something bothers us, and why. But there’s got to be a sense of proportion, and for god’s sake, some basic fucking human decency.

*Side note: On video games, I really do not understand why so many console games are going for the PC model of online-only multiplayer. It’s like they console companies want to lose customers! When the same games are available on nearly all platforms and they’re all pretty much online-only multiplayer … yeah. People will choose PC. One of the big differentiators between consoles and PC is couch co-op– PC you have to go through so much work to game in the same room, whereas console should be as easy as having extra controllers and a multiplayer game! But it’s like the console game creators looked at the market and decided to mimic PC’s model instead of offer an alternative. As a result, out of my family of 3– who used to play couch co-op console games together all the time– only one person still consistently games. On the PC. Our PS4, X-box 360, and Wii are just gathering dust.

but I was wrong. It was– is– more perceptive and self-aware than that.

Facebook, Google Spread Misinformation About Las Vegas Shooting. What Went Wrong? : All Tech Considered : NPR

When I was little and I repeated some tidbit of information I’d heard on tv (usually from an ad, but sometimes from a show or the news), my parents would say, “Don’t believe everything you see on TV.”

The lesson they were trying to impart, really, was to practice reasonable skepticism. To consider my sources. To think about potential biases– who was saying the thing, and why, and how might they benefit? Did that bias undermine or enhance the underlying validity of the message?

Of course, I didn’t see the lessons so clearly as a kid. It was more like … well, not accepting everything seen on TV at face-value. Double-checking claims with multiple sources– other channels, newspapers, books, research papers, etc.

Obviously, I’ve adapted the maxim for the internet era. I’ll often find myself saying to my son (who rolls his eyes and joins in to finish my sentence with a sigh): “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.”

It’s gotten to the point that he’ll fact-check a claim (at minimum) with 2 or 3 different sources before telling me some news tidbit, just to address my doubt in advance. I’m pretty proud of him. Knowledge is power!

This expectation of doubt is one of the reasons I don’t get the why/ how of fake news. I mean, I get it, in the sense I’ve read the research on human psychology, sociological algorithms, and the role of social media.

But whenever I read about something like how social media/ search engine giants put misinformation pulled from Reddit in their breaking news segments during the immediate wake of the Las Vegas shooting, it’s just … upsetting. Upsetting on multiple levels. I mean …

Hey! Tech companies! Your algorithms are infused with creator bias, and also not very good at sorting fact from fiction! Maybe accept that human employees are necessary for certain tasks and stop trying so hard to automate everything?

I think tech companies should focus on hiring a diverse workforce to manage those high-impact intersections where news, politics, and personal life co-exist online. Develop skilled training programs, pay living wages and offer excellent benefits, and promote from within. A motivated, trained, and diverse workforce overseeing algorithmic functions will probably address these problems far more sensitively and effectively than an algorithm with skeleton staff oversight.

But there’s another side of this coin, and an informed populace can’t be informed if they’re only have one news source– whether that source is state-imposed or self-imposed out of ignorance and laziness/ ease of access.

So consumers and users of media! Don’t believe everything you read/ see! Consider the source! Actively seek out information and arguments that confront your perspective!

If you’re liberal/ progressive, add a little Fox News and National Review (or Slate’s, “Today in Conservative Media,” column) into your reading diet.

If you’re conservative, try adding in some new perspectives like The Atlantic, The Young Turks, or MSNBC.

Just step outside the box, and listen to the same information from a different perspective. The heart of the matter is usually more subtle and nuanced than expected. Sometimes it’s surprising what aspects of a story will get focused on.