Normally, the dissection of nerd culture is Evan’s territory. Comic books, super-hero movies, the ins-and-outs of sci-fi flicks- really anything you could or would want to know about geekdom, Evan has covered.
If it isn’t, then you probably aren’t familiar with the series (and should count yourself truly fortunate), so for you blissfully innocent, here’s the basic run-down.
The Left Behind series is based on the book of Revelation in the Bible, as well as certain (delectably) apocalyptic verses in Old Testament books. I say “based on”, but that’s more to demonstrate the authors’ intentions. Left Behind is “based on” the book of Revelation in the same way that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is based on Vasari’s biographies of Italian Renaissance artists.
In the sixteen-novel series, all true (cough, Protestant, cough) Christians have been “raptured” (removed from the world and taken directly to the after life), leaving behind the unsaved protagonists of the story who find themselves contending with the oncoming “tribulations” (the host of hardships and catastrophes marking the end times) and the rise of the antichrist, who walks the earth in the form of a Romanian politician who takes control of the UN (because, you know, there’s no one more powerful than the UN).
Things more powerful than the UN: The Student Government of MLK Jr. Middle School, A Junior Sales Rep from Prescott Pharmaceuticals, Paris Hilton’s Chihuahua
Needless to say, I don’t think very highly of the series. But hey, if we’re looking for badly written fan-fiction, why not haul Twilight to the guillotine?
It’s because of the fan part. That’s what really gets me. We’re not talking about someone fawning over the idea of stalker-veggie-sparkle-vampires, we’re talking about someone fawning over the idea of millions- billions– of human beings undergoing agonizing deaths. Think I’m reading into things? Take a look at this passage from the series:
The riders not thrown leaped from their horses and tried to control them with the reins, but even as they struggled, their own flesh dissolved, their eyes melted, and their tongues disintegrated. As Rayford watched, the soldiers stood briefly as skeletons in now-baggy uniforms, then dropped in heaps of bones as the blinded horses continued to fume and rant and rave.
Seconds later the same plague afflicted the horses, their flesh and eyes and tongues melting away, leaving grotesque skeletons standing, before they too rattled to the pavement.
You might say “Sure, that’s violent, but that isn’t exactly glorifying it, is it?”. Let me continue on.
…Jesus nudged His magnificent white charger and descended to the top of the Mount of Olives.
As He dismounted, Carpathia shrieked out his final command, “Attack!” The hundred thousand troops followed orders, horsemen at full gallop firing, foot soldiers running and firing, rolling stock rolling and firing.
And Jesus said, in that voice like a trumpet and the sound of rushing waters, “I AM WHO I AM.”
At that instant the Mount of Olives split in two from east to west, the place Jesus stood moving to the north and the place where the Unity Army stood moving to the south, leaving a large valley.
All the firing and the running and the galloping and the rolling stopped. The soldiers screamed and fell, their bodies bursting open from head to toe…
So much for turning the other cheek, eh?
And here’s what gets me about the series. It’s not the generally bad writing or the twisted theology- it’s just how freakishly popular the series is. Popular enough not to spawn just one movie attempt, but two. It’s hard enough for good stories to get a second chance at something like that, let alone this junk. And it’s the implication of that popularity which gnaws at me. There are people out there- a lot of people- who genuinely look forward to this supposed apocalyptic scenario, or an apocalyptic scenario, anyhow. People who fully expect the end of the world to be a plague and hellfire ridden Armageddon, complete with WWIII and genocide of unheard of proportions. People who look forward to this- and not in a “in the sweet by and by” way, I’m talking about a “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” kind of way.
You can’t deny that this blood-thirsty anticipation does exist. If you’re even only vaguely familiar with the Christian (American-Christian, more on that in a second) subculture, you’ll almost have certainly run into this. There’s plenty of other lousy Armageddon fantasies out there.
And what makes it all the worse is just how utterly undeserved all this hidden vitriol is. This vengeful glee isn’t coming from people who have been mercilessly persecuted for their faith. This isn’t coming from the families of martyrs or the congregations of assassinated priests and pastors in the third world. The churches of Africa, Asia, and South America have enough problems combating war, poverty, and disease to be drooling over prophesied war, poverty, and disease. No, this is the bitter vindictiveness that only comfort and safety can breed. All this body-bursting leering isn’t a result of imprisonment (not that it would be justified there either), it’s a result of being snubbed by Bill Maher or portrayed as yokels on some sitcom.
That’s just messed up.
Now this isn’t Shame Day, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all gather ’round and ruthlessly mock something that so richly deserves it, and if this drivel doesn’t deserve it, I don’t know what does.
Last night The Big Bang Theory aired its 122nd episode, entitled “The Santa Simulation.” News that its premise hit the internet and avid television watchers everywhere began to cry what may one day become a familiar saying, “Community did it first!” Every single one of them was wrong.
A full year before “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons,” [one of the best episodes of Community‘s second season, in my opinion] there was “Jen the Fredo,” the first episode of British sitcom The IT Crowd‘s fourth season. Both of these episodes were some of the best of their respective shows, so I was pretty excited for what TBBT had to offer.
The thing about the D&D-centric episode is how it’s been used as a plot device. As a role-playing game the players are able to reveal aspects about themselves that might not otherwise come out, and you can see this being done with various degrees of effectiveness in each episode. Spoilers for all three episodes past this point.
The IT Crowd [S4E1]
“Jen the Fredo”
I realize that most of you have not seen, or maybe even heard of, The IT Crowd. Let me sum in up in that it is, in my ways, what The Big Bang Theory could be. It’s a show about two, well, nerds that work in the IT department of a large company and their boss, who knows nearly nothing about computers. One of the best aspects of the show is that it brings you into the nerdiness of Moss and Roy, and in watching you begin to feel like you really relate to them, becoming equally frustrated when people ask them for help with their computers.
“Jen the Fredo” is, if you’ve seen The Godfather films [which I haven’t], a clear reference to the character Fredo, whose job it was to take out of town businessman and “show them a good time.” Jen takes on the role of helping to entertain a few business partners, but ultimately fails when she takes them to see “The Vagina Monologues.”
Enter Dungeons and Dragons. Moss has been preparing to DM [Dungeon Master, can be used as a verb] and convinces Jen that it’s exactly what these gentlemen are looking for. The best part is, he succeeds [I had a great YouTube clip here but someone decided to make it private].
While the idea of entertaining [and riveting] a few rowdy businessmen with a little D&D is hilarious in and of itself, but there’s more to it than that. Moss uses the game to confront Roy about the latter’s painful breakup, something he’d been avoiding talking about for a while. The conclusion is tear-filled and, more importantly, immensely funny. You can catch it on Netflix, or here, though you didn’t hear that from me.
Community [S2E14] “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons”
This episode has easily the most actual gameplay of the three, since essentially the entire episode consists of the Greendale Seven playing D&D in the library. It also treats the source material the most lovingly, complete with a voice over and fantastically appropriate score.
The game is set up due to Jeff wanting to help out “Fat Neil,” a young man planning to end his life [understated by the narration] due to his new nickname. Once everything is set up, with Abed as the DM, things really get going.
Each member of the study group essentially plays a version of themselves, with the voice over near the beginning describing them as “Troy the Obtuse,” and “Britta the Needlessly Defiant.” They react to the situations within the game as they normally would, with Jeff impatient and unwilling to put up with nonsense as usual. The best parts, however, are when you discover a little something about the character you thought you knew, well-illustrated in the following scene with Annie:
In this episode Pierce owns his most [as far as I’m concerned] unpopular role: The Villain. Incensed at being excluded from the game he steals Fat Neil’s magical sword and runs away, later using D&D manuals to cheat and garner immense power to himself.
Everything ends, as usual, with a fairly warm and fuzzy conclusion. Pierce is defeated, mostly through his friends forgiving him for his dickishness [hence his title, “Pierce the Dickish]. Neil’s spirits are lifted and he finds the motivation to keep on living.
The Big Bang Theory [S6E11]
“The Santa Situation”
A “guys’ night” is happening and the activity of choice is Dungeons and Dragons, which is territory you’d have expected these characters to have explored in-depth quite a few seasons back. Heck, as far as I can recall they spent more time playing Settlers of Catan than throwing around a 12-sided dice.
The game begins and Leonard, the DM, lets it drop that their quest is to rescue Santa Claus. Queue Sheldon’s disappointed face due to the fact that he a) loves D&D and b) hates Christmas. Also Raj gets shot in the face with a cannon in the first few minutes of the game, highlighting the fragility of life in a world that values perception checks.
Oh, and they ditch their respective girlfriends to play, which led to this scene, the last line of which was delivered excellently:
Using the structure of the game Leonard gets Sheldon to sing [all five verses of] “Good King Wenceslas” and all three remaining players to play “Jingle Bells” using, the obvious instrument of choice, bells.
Upon finding Jolly Old St. Nick in chains they move forward to rescue him, only to have Sheldon cast a paralyzing spell on his companions. He then confronts Santa [or Leonard, in this case] and tells the heartbreaking story of how he asked Father Christmas for only one thing as a child, to have his grandfather back. He then walks out, leaving the old many to die.
As far as really exploring well-established characters, Community probably succeeds the most, by virtue that it only has the one central plot that revolves around a single game of D&D. While it does feature Pierce continuing on his course to become more cartoonishly evil, Britta’s response to the beleaguered gnomes is a perfect example of how her character will react both in and out of the real world.
The IT Crowd and The Big Bang Theory tread the very similar ground. Moss uses the game to force Roy to come to terms with the love he lost, something that would have been impossible otherwise. Sheldon’s childhood experience with Santa Claus never would have come about without Leonard guiding him to that place where he could talk to the man who disappointed him.
My hope is that there will be a continuation of this trend, with there having being one D&D episode per year from 2010-2012. As the current DM of an ongoing gothic horror campaign I am well-aware of the storytelling capabilities of the game as well as how enjoyable it is to know people you know well deal when presented with fantastical situations. Although 2/3 of the above shows do feature “nerds” I’m sure that this could still appear in the more bizarre sitcoms, such as New Girl and Happy Endings.
GORDON: Ladies, gentlemen, voices I hear in my head during the dark, long hours of the night, we’re going to deviate from our past record of discussing television to talk about creating a new literary genre.
EVAN: Which is a daunting task, to say the least. I mean, genres have gotten ridiculously specific as of late. There’s a “gay horror” genre now. It’s not something to spook homophobes, it’s literally horror fiction for homosexuals.
GORDON: There are so many terrible, ignorant jokes I wanna make right now, but I’m not going to. But I agree- we can’t just slap two genres together. Poe is credited with inventing the deective novel- is there a particular profession that hasn’t really been explored much?
EVAN: Hm . . . Everything dramatic and even slightly connected to death is out. That includes forensic scientists, doctors or any sort, lawyers, etc. And the thing is, a genre that revolves around a profession requires an exciting one.
GORDON: Would it count if we revived the explorer/exploration novel?
EVAN: Not if the title of this post is “Evan and Gordon Talk: New Lit. Genre.”
GORDON: Touché. Here’s an idea: a “Nietzschean” novel.
EVAN: Go on-
GORDON: Well, to brutally simplify the philosophy, the only “bad guys” are the people who aren’t doing anything. Otherwise it’s more like an epic tale of colliding forces all of whom technically could be the protagonists and antagonists.
EVAN: That’s an interesting direction, but I suppose my issue is how alternatingly broad and specific it is- So in these novels you’re proposing, the only villains are the idle?
GORDON: the idle, the apathetic, those trapped by their antiquated sense of morality, and those enslaved to their brute instincts and empty rationality.
EVAN: I suppose it works, but have difficulty seeing it as the header to a shelf in a bookstore. Which is sort of what I was envisioning we would do in creating our new genre.
GORDON: Huh. What’s your idea?
EVAN: Well, this isn’t my idea, but I recently came across this brilliant new novel put together by Ryan North, creator of the webcomic Quantz.
GORDON: Huh. If we’re going down that track, how about a novel written in such a way where you can rip out certain sections, rearrange ’em, and wind up with a completely different story?
EVAN: It would work, but sounds exceedingly difficult to pull off. I’m trying to think of how exactly one would go about writing one . . .
I think, keeping in discussing literature, we could devise a new medium of sorts- it would be a marriage of the graphic novel and the traditional novel. Heavy on both text and imagery, a seamless integration that showcases both the artist and the author.
GORDON: That’s sounds like your average Alan Moore book.
EVAN:The Watchmen comes close to it, but it’s ultimately still a graphic novel which prioritizes that sort of storytelling over the bits of prose sandwiched in between the panels.
How about we look at steampunk, and see if we can branch out from it? That seems to be the newest sort of genre out there nowadays.
GORDON: Fair enough. I’m just struggling to figure out an era of technology to “punk.” After all, steam power was really the first major leap in technology.
EVAN: And “cyberpunk” is already a thing as well.
GORDON: This is true. But what else is there? Modern tech? “Modpunk”?
EVAN: Well, we don’t necessarily need to “punk” something. We just need to look at what makes/made steampunk so popular and work off of that-
GORDON: It’s the art, the world, the fancy suits. But yeah, it’s the rich world that’s created; it appeals to us.
EVAN: It’s also a union of history junkies and the sci-fi/fantasy crowd, I think that’s a pretty large aspect of it.
Are there two sort of interest groups that we can intertwine? I mean, it’s already been done with horror and romance, long before Stephenie Meyers ever came along.
GORDON: Huh. I’ll admit, I’m having trouble trying to think of one that hasn’t already been covered. As of yet, I think my Nietzschean idea was the strongest lead we yet have.
What if went down that route? Trying to twist philosophies into narratives- the allegory of the cave would make a good story.
EVAN: I think the main issue is how broad it could get- though I suppose it could just be “Philosophical Fiction.” That I could see in a bookstore.
GORDON: That’d be cool. I mean, it all appeals to the questions and struggles we already have. Yet barring Rand (may raccoons urinate on her grave) and LeGuin, I can’t think of any explicitly “philosophical” novels.
EVAN: That may speak for their effectiveness/popularity.
I was thinking about taking a genre that’s immensely popular to this day, and smashing it together with another one. Self-help books.
EVAN: People eat ’em up.
GORDON: I’m just imagining a really sarcastic self-help book.
EVAN: Comedy and self-help has probably been done . . . hm . . . I would love to see a whole line of books that masqueraded as self-help books that you could gift to the naive.
GORDON: Heh, that’d be cool.
EVAN: They’d be excessively over the top, but just believable enough for people to [literally] buy them.
GORDON: That’d be funny, but it’s really not a genre.
EVAN: I think if self-help books are a genre then fake self-help books would be as well.
GORDON: It’s really more of a gag.
EVAN: Yeah, I suppose you really couldn’t have that many of them.
How about an exaggeration of the choose your own adventure book?
GORDON: Like forcing you to branch out into multiple novels?
EVAN: Ooh, that’s an idea! So your choices would determine what novels you get next; that’s brilliant.
GORDON: Ain’t it? You’re welcome, America.
EVAN: And Canada. And the world. Let’s open up our borders here.
GORDON: Except Luxembourg. **** you guys.
EVAN: You don’t even know anyone from Luxembourg.
GORDON: Exactly- what makes ’em think they’re so good they don’t talk to me?
EVAN: We are going to lose the viewership of an entire country because of you.
GORDON: Boo hoo.
EVAN: All . . . possibly one of them.
GORDON: Hey, Luxembourg! Andorra called, they want their quaint charm and history back!
EVAN: And with the slamming of an entire nation done, and with a few very decent ideas about exciting places literature could go, we should look forward to what we talk about next-
GORDON: New film style?
EVAN: Seems like we’d be following very closely the same sort of conversation. Not to mention really most of what can be done has been done.
GORDON: This is true.
EVAN: Hm . . . How about . . . nerd culture, just in general- The Big Bang Theory, the current conversation about “nerd girls,” the whole shebang.
GORDON: Sure thing.
EVAN: Okay, that fully wraps up our time. Say good-bye to the nice people, Gordon.
Written by recent college graduate (and former classmate) Garret Forsman, Ashes of Silver is an introduction to the world of Hearthstead and its many inhabitants. Certainly a fantasy novel by any stretch, this self-published novel unfortunately falls short on a number of levels.
An excerpt from the back cover reads:
In the aftermath of a bitter war, the reclusive mage Xlynx takes the time to write down what he can of the history of Hearthstead. Before he can get far, though, he is called upon to enlist a scattered group of tortured souls at the behest of an enigmatic ally. Continue reading →