Stranger Things

While there must be close to 1,000 micrograms of nostalgia in each episode of Stranger Things, do not watch it because it triggers all those fuzzies from your childhood.  Watch it because it is a fantastic show that ups the bar for content in a world where Two and a Half Men was consistently one of the most watched shows in the United States for more than a decade.  Watch it because, much like Olympic Games, it plants ideas.  Stranger Things happens to plant positive ideas about gender identity, people with different colored skin, and generally how humans should treat other humans.  Unlike Olympic Games, Stranger Things mostly delivers its payload without detection.

With that disclaimer, we will indulge in a bit of nostalgia.  If the only thing we know about something is that it is a bit twisted, we sometimes like to consume it in a non-linear fashion.  The first episode we watched was the fifth, which we were told was the penultimate episode.  Still thinking we had watched the second to last hour, we watched the first episode before watching the surprisingly long (to us) conclusion.  Then we went back to the beginning and watched the initial installments sequentially.  Consuming media is not something we do for fun, we do it to probe our physical, emotional, and intellectual limitations.  In this case, it was like eating dessert first when your parents were not paying attention.

Set in 1983, the real evil confronted in the series is a human with an all-too-real backstory.  The period-correct brands and references up the score on the realness scale even as Akira-level madness starts to mix with a narrative that will remind you of Flight of the Navigator, ET, The Dark Crystal, and several other experiences from your childhood.  Our non-linear viewing method led us to believe the narrative would end up in an extremely dark place.  The parallels with Grant Morrison’s recent 6-issue comic book series, Nameless, and the story scattered across Reddit one chapter at a time by a user named 9MOTHER9HORSES9EYES9 are a bit on the nose.  It does not get that dark.

The end, in fact, is in many ways extremely uplifting.  One of us found ourselves sobbing because of one character’s flashbacks and his own memories of a younger sibling who was not expected to live.  There are a lot of positive messages packed into this narrative.  One of the reasons we focus on dystopian films is that by learning more about the way our world works, we hope to avoid the versions of the future (or past) that we see reflected in such films.  Is it naive to think that the more we learn about how terrible humans are to each other, the better the world becomes?

Zero Days

In case you did not know, everything you have stored digitally is public.  While this has probably been true for at least a decade, it is an ironclad fact today.  Zero Days is an excellent documentary examining one of the most sophisticated cyberattacks ever launched as far as the public knows. It also features a nice gentleman from Cyber Command, NSA’s offensive upstairs neighbor, stating that even Cyber Command realizes that its data is not safe.

I would like to believe that, since we are all living in the same glass house, we will learn to stop throwing rocks and feel a little less ashamed or frustrated about things that truly do not matter.  I want to believe in us, the way Rocky believed he could single-handedly end the cold war (and did!), but optimism feels misplaced when the United States, Russia, and China are busy amassing small nuclear arms.  I am sure they are safe.  Not like those clunky cold war nukes that only the United States has used.

In the ever crystallizing glass house, I think it is much more likely we will live to see a president’s genitals than any kind of cease fire.  While much of this documentary has been reported in the past, like the massive s.f. cyber attack the United States had in place and may have turned on had negotiations with Iran failed, the documentary is thorough, well paced, and brings together a lot of information with an elegance rarely seen in fiction let alone non-fiction.

The film starts with a detailed look at the discovery and dissection of what us civilians called stuxnet and NSA types who built the bugger referred to as Olympic Games.  Despite being an OG, the subtle attack on Iran’s centrifuges was only a tiny piece of a much larger, terrifying whole.  The s.f. cyberware of the future is here, and it is just a matter of time before a major attack has devastating consequences for countless civilians.  Of course, we are all complicit.  What floor do you live on?  Those elevators probably will not work if you upset the wrong people.  At this point, it is probably out of your hands.  You might be delightful, but wars have casualties.  Cost of doing business.

We insist that you watch this movie for your own good.  If you stubbornly refuse, at least buy a motorcycle and have an exit strategy.  I will be waiting for you in north-central Florida.  You will know when to meet me.


Watching a herd of people on my roof watch fireworks through their cell phones immediately reminded me of this scene in Fandango.  Though not technically dystopian, we might do well to remember that some of our parents may not enjoy a celebration involving loud, colorful explosions.  This film follows a group of kids taking a road trip across the country before shipping off to Vietnam. (NOTE:  A recent viewing of this film reminded us that it has some deeply problematic scenes.)

I would have been drafted had I been born on the same day but the year of my father’s birth.  He watched the draft with several neighborhood kids huddled around a boxy television.  During my lifetime, I have only seen groups of draft-age children stare at a television with that intensity when sports and binge drinking were involved.

The next time you are tempted to yell at a distant athlete through a one-way flatscreen, pretend your friend’s life is in the balance.  Then remember how lucky we are that we can pretend.  Also, maybe call your parents if you can and tell them that you love them.

Curious what your draft number would have been?