Sunday, October 20, 2013

Colorblind casting - why not?

Several years ago, I went on record as saying that casting a black actor (in this case, the rumors were swirling around Will Smith) as Captain America would be a mistake. In that case, I was strictly referring to if they were going to make a movie about Steve Rogers and stick to his World War II origins. While one shouldn't look to the movies for historical accuracy, especially when we're talking superhero films, it would be pretty insulting to pretend like America was some sort of racial utopia back then that would accept a black man as the symbol for the country.  The first Captain America movie was pushing it as it was when it showed an integrated army.

Right now, there's talk of a reboot of The Fantastic Four, which is a good idea considering the previous two stunk on wheels. Rumored to play The Human Torch is one Michael B. Jordan, and that rumor is looking more and more likely to be something that's actually going to happen. Not surprisingly, you don't have to go too far to find fans who are complaining that they're casting a black man as a character who's white in the comics.  With this rumor, I feel quite differently than I did about the one involving Captain America.

When I think of The Torch, I think of a guy who's young, handsome, cocky, and heroic. Seems to me that Jordan has the first two going for him. I don't know much about his acting, so I'll reserve judgment on whether he can pull of the second two things. My point is that there really isn't anything about The Torch that requires him to be a white guy. Maybe if they were going to have the film take place in the early 1960s, when the original comics were published, you could make a better case for Johnny Storm needing to be a white guy, but chances are pretty good that this film will take place in either the present day or the near future. So why not a black man playing the part?

Some fans have expressed concern over who they're going to get play his sister, Sue Storm, a.k.a. The Invisible Woman. If they cast a white woman, then how are they going to explain how she has a black brother? Here's my response: WHO CARES?

The core concept of The Fantastic Four is that they are adventurers who are also a family. It makes no difference if Sue and Johnny are half-siblings or even if one's adopted. They wouldn't be any less brother and sister just because they might not share the same parents, and any dynamic that works in the comics can work just the same if they're from a racially mixed family.

I really don't believe in being a purist when it comes to adapting works of literature - be it Shakespeare or comic books. I care more about whether they get the heart of the material correct or not. Just look at Christopher Nolan's Batman films. They make a LOT of changes to the comic book stories, but it still rings true as Batman because they made sure to get everything that's important right. Everything else is just details, and there's no reason why this bit of casting would destroy the core concept of the F.F.

Sure, there are some characters where you don't want to mix their races. See my example of Captain America, for instance. You also wouldn't want anybody other than a black guy to play The Black PantherLuke Cage or Othello.  But why not an Asian-American Spider-Man? How about a Latino Daredevil? Maybe you might have some trouble tying them to their Caucasian-sounding names, but if I could get over the fact that an African-American was playing Julius Caesar, I could probably get over that stuff as well.

I don't believe in diversity for diversity's sake, but I also don't think that we should be afraid of it either.  So many superhero movies have missed the entire point of the character in the first place (thankfully, that's becoming more of a rare thing nowadays). If Michael B. Jordan can embody the personality of Johnny Storm, then I think that fans will get over his skin color the same way that James Bond fans got over the fact that Daniel Craig had blonde hair.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Bible - seriously?

"The best cure for Christianity is reading The Bible." - Mark Twain

I remember when I was still on the fence regarding this whole religion thing, and I finally decided to try and read The Bible. I had visited various internet forums where the atheists would quote all kinds of awfulness that it supposedly said, but I wanted to check it out for myself. I'm pretty sure that I didn't get very far into it when I finally decided that I just couldn't believe what was in there.

I would read it while commuting to work (I was riding BART) and then get home and tell my wife about what new awfulness I had discovered. Not long after that, I would get into conversations with Christians, and I'd tell them what was in there. For many of them, they were highly skeptical that it actually said what I had told them. I remember reading from many atheists when they said that they stopped believing when they actually tried to read it, and I think that I had some delusion that if I only had told Christians what this supposedly "good book" had to say, they'd realize what a gigantic load of crap it was.

No such luck on that one though. Sure, it is true that many people stop believing when they read The Bible, but I think that for many of them, as it was for me, they were already at a point where they were willing to accept that it just might not be true - or even a good basis for morality, for that matter. The sad fact is though that many Christians actually DO read it, and they've read all the awful stuff, and yet they STILL believe it!

Okay, time for my standard "I am aware that not all Christians are the same" disclaimer. I have met plenty of Christians who have absolutely no problem tossing out the parts of The Bible that are evil and/or nonsensical. In other words, they think that its various books were written by flawed human beings, and those flaws shine through, even though there are some flashes of divine inspiration throughout. I can't honestly say that I respect this view, as it's a bit too much of having your cake and eating it too, but I'm not going to pick on them because at least they don't engage in the despicable sort of apologetics those who hold it up as being the end-product of an omnibenevolent being.

I'll be honest with you, trying to debate people like this is like trying to talk to a guy who's eating a sundae where the primary ingredient is dog crap. You can keep telling them, "Hey man! That's poo!" but they'll point out the chocolate syrup, whip cream, and cherry. "Yeah, sure...but you're eating poo, dude!" At a certain point, when you've just seen them shovel that fourth scoop of fetid feces into their faces, you just have to turn around and go, "Yeah, I can't do nothing for ya, man."

Except that doesn't quite complete the analogy, because imagine this dog-crap sundae consumer usually eschews junk like Applebee's and knows how to make a delicious homecooked meal. In other words, they're people who you'd think would know better.

What I've noticed is that it just doesn't matter what's in The Bible, they will find a way around it. Apparently it's not bad enough that The Bible says that a virgin must marry her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28) or that you can beat your slave as much as you want, just so long as you don't beat him to death (Exodus 21:20). They can work their way around it by either saying the completely inconsistent "that's the Old Testament!" rule (Then why even include it?) or the "out of context!" cop-out (What context justifies such things?) or they'll give some long-winded thing about how the death and resurrection of Jesus somehow fixes it - as though that's some sort of self-evident bit of reasoning. Of course, I could give you more, including Old and New Testament horribleness,

But to what end? The only people who might look it up and consider it are the fence-sitters, and I've given them enough to get started on their own. The nonbelievers either already know about all that stuff or don't care in the first place. But for the true-believing apologist, it simply doesn't matter what it says. There could be a quote where Jesus himself tells his followers to rape puppies, and they'll still find a way around it. It's funny, because I've been told that I need to read it with an "open mind" but that's the not how that works. If you're truly open-minded, you're willing to accept that it's either worthy of respect or its not. In other words, you don't start with the conclusion. Because that's the only way you can get around the horrible things it says - if you decide from the beginning that it can all be excused.

I've written so much, and I haven't even touched on the fact that if there was an all-perfect, all-loving God, then a book is the absolute WORST way to communicate with us. (That's right, Muslims! You ain't exactly off the hook with the Qu'ran, ya know.)

For starters, did you know that it wasn't originally written in English? Not only that, but English - especially as we know it today - wasn't even around when Jesus supposedly walked the Earth? That's why you have so many different translations. And anybody who's taken even a first year of a language in high school knows the problem when it comes to translating. With translation must come some interpretation, because there are entire phrases that simply do not translate, and you'll never get the same point across.

For instance, there's a scene in The Odyssey where Odysseus tells the Cyclops that his name is "Nobody". After getting a burning stick jammed in his eye, the brute calls out to his fellow Cyclops. When they ask him, from behind the wall of his cave, who's attacked him, he replies "Nobody!" and so they go on their way, thinking that nobody has done him harm. Well, in the original Ancient Greek, the word for "nobody" is "me tis" which sounds a lot like "metis", which means "cunning" - a word that best describes Odysseus. Basically what you've got in the original is a pun, and there's no way to translate that double meaning into English.

That's just one tiny example. Can't you imagine that The Bible has similar issues - and maybe even with things that aren't so trivial? Well, let's just assume that somehow the translations manage to avoid that, you're still left with some additional problems. For instance, there's the Apocrypha, those books of The Bible that didn't make the final cut - even though many early church leaders thought them to be divinely inspired. Let's assume that's not a problem either, then you still have to deal with the fact that we don't have the originals for any of these scriptures. We do have evidence though that the various scribes who went about copying them would make changes - either on purpose or due to simple human error.

Let's go ahead and overlook that as well, even though there's absolutely no reason to do so. We still have the biggest, most intractable problem there is - the people who read it.

I've gotten into long conversations with people about everything from issues of Batman comics to Hamlet, and we've debated back and forth as to what was really going on in the story. That's all good and fun though, as it's the basis of literature. It's not like the author directly transmits his or her thoughts right into the reader's brain. There will always be a certain level of interpretation. You cannot help but bring part of yourself to everything you read, and that will impact how you receive the message. And let's face it, a person living in 2013 isn't going to approach a text - especially one that's been edited and translated as much as The Bible - the same way as the original audience would.

And before you hem and haw at that point, take a moment to consider how many different denominations of Christianity there are, all of which certain that they got it right, and just keep moving right along.

Am I trying to say that The Bible is completely worthless? Absolutely not. I actually like some of it. However, to say that it's the words of an all-loving, all-knowing being is absurd at best, downright evil at worst. Let's just take it for what it is, a work of mythology that's better in some parts than others, and then we can maybe start getting some real value from it, rather than pretending that it's something that it clearly isn't.