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Zombies, the lamest monsters

In Books, Entertainment, Movies, Opinion, sociology, television, Uncategorized on October 20, 2014 at 11:28 am

DIH LOGOHalloween is upon us and, once again, zombie-mania continues to reign supreme. From so-called, community “Zombie Walk” events to AMC’s season premier of the “Walking Dead” boasting the highest-rated cable television show in history, Americans certainly seem to be zombie-obsessed. But why; what is it about an animated, decaying corpse that seems to capture people’s imaginations and gets them to shell out millions of dollars in search of the next big zombie fix?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word, “zombie,” has its origins in West Africa, but the concept of the animated corpse most likely comes from Haitian folklore. Legend suggests that the dead are raised by magical means to walk the earth again and do the bidding of the one who performed the revival ritual, as a sort of creepy slave.

Zombies first appeared in American popular literature as early as 1929, then shortly after, actor Bela Lugosi, famous for his portrayal of “Dracula,” starred in the film, “White Zombie,” which introduced the familiar personification of the creature. The modern American zombie pop-culture most likely took hold after the release of George Romero’s 1968 film, “Night of the Living Dead,” although they were never actually referred to by that word in the movie.

zombiesZombies in modern tales aren’t usually created by magic, but science. Today’s authors have penned a more realistic origin for what has become known as the “zombie apocalypse.” In most current story plots, a rogue virus escapes to the population, infecting everyone and turning them into, essentially, zombies. Instead of one or two slave zombies on the loose, entire populations of walking dead murderously meander across the globe, destroying civilization as they consume the living for sustenance; right, whatever.

Really, except for the fact that they’re pretty gross to look at and can sneak up on people, as far as monsters go zombies are probably the lamest (pun intended) and least scary creatures ever dreamed up. Think about it – re-animated dead people, hobbling along with one foot dragging behind them and moving so slowly, any granny on a walker could whiz past. What’s scary about that?

These monsters have no motive for being bad and there is no end goal or desire for world domination. They’re just hungry. They wander the night, aimlessly, hoping only to happen upon a fresh brain to consume.

And would someone please explain why they even need to eat anything? They’re dead! What possible nutritional value could there be in anything for a zombie? And why are they bleeding always? Does it need to be pointed out again, they’re dead – there shouldn’t be any blood pumping.

Add to that killing them is really a piece of cake, depending on which version of zombie lore you adhere to. In the modern, “Walking Dead” style, all you need to do is smash in their heads or decapitate them or something. But, according to Haitian lore, the goal was not to destroy them but to release these poor souls from their magically-induced, wandering purgatory and there were several methods available to do that, like pouring salt on them.

In any case, zombies are just not all that intimidating compared to vampires or werewolves (ignoring the Twilight-styled, sparkling, Calvin Klein model types). And yet, inevitably, story protagonists nearly always get caught by the marauding zombies and get their brains eaten. Really, how dumb does someone in a monster movie need to be to actually get caught by a crippled, decaying dead guy?

So, here is the best possible advice for escaping zombies – run! Or, just walk fast; it’s not that hard to get away from zombies. Just be sure to sacrifice the comic relief character first, giving you extra time (not like you need it).

If for some reason the zombie gets too close, and yes, that will be because you are really, incredibly stupid, just grab the arms and pull them off – how hard can it be? They’re dead and decaying, right? Hopefully the zombie fascination will diminish soon, leaving room for even more ridiculous obsessions, like brooding, teenage werewolves. Oh wait, that’s been done already too. Oh well. Happy Halloween!
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. Deer In Headlines is a production of GLD Enterprises Commercial Writing. More at gerydeer.com.

 

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When did being nerdy become cool?

In Children and Family, Economy, Education, Opinion, sociology, Technology, Uncategorized on August 25, 2014 at 12:14 pm

DIH LOGOAm I to understand that, largely because of a television situation comedy, it is now cool to be awkward, socially inept, and very smart, all while being considered – dare I use the word – “nerdy?” When did this happen? In my day, we nerds were cast out from all the best tables in the school lunchroom or forced to get bad grades to avoid being picked on because we were smart  – that never worked, by the way. It’s just not fair that today’s geeks get a pass! But, it’s about time!

Yes, I was a nerd, of the ultimate type, though I never made much of an effort to show my smarts on my report card; the dreaded “permanent record.” Best part is, I’m still pretty nerdy, if not more so, except now, people think it’s much cooler. Ok, maybe not so much when you’re nearly 50 years old, but still, it’s better than the reverse.

It is highly unlikely, however, that the power struggle of lunchroom hierarchy has changed too much. Although I have learned that there are now “smart kid cliques,” like a “herd of nerd.” These gaggles of bespectacled hackers, techies, science geeks and math whizzes won’t let the cool kids – jocks, cheerleaders, etc. – sit at their tables. Oh my, how the lunch tables have turned! So what, exactly happened to cause this mirror universe effect (there’s a Star Trek reference for anyone who’s paying attention)?

GLD Enterprises Commercial Writing managing copywriter Gery L. Deer at his Jamestown office.

GLD Enterprises Commercial Writing managing copywriter Gery L. Deer at his Jamestown office. Nerd is in!

Were our Heisenberg compensators out of calibration? Was there a paradoxical overlap in the delicate fabric of space and time? Perhaps J.J. Abrams decided to re-imagine nerddom in his own image? However interesting these explanations may sound, the popularity shift albeit a smaller one than you might think has more to do with money than anything else, on several levels.

In the 1990s, the nerds of the 80s were rolling in the cash as the tech boom swept across the nation and rapidly spread worldwide. Billions of dollars were going into research and development as the Internet expanded and commerce took notice.

Suddenly, everyone was a hacker or web developer. Countless tech startups swamped Silicon Valley and the rest of the country as everybody with a modem tried to cash in on the boom.  In short, the nerds of yesterday are the successful business tycoons of today, at least some of the time.

Next, it would be hard to talk about this subject without at least a hat-tip to the TV nerds of CBS’s hit comedy, “The Big Bang Theory.” The quirky, discomfited antics of Sheldon, Leonard, Raj and Howard have become a sensation. The show seems to be broadcast every hour of the evening, primetime or in syndication. Watching people who seem far more awkward and unsure than ourselves has always been a pastime, but this is somehow even more engaging.

Most of us who have worked in the engineering or technical fields knew or knows someone like each of these guys, but with nowhere near the personality or likability of the four fictional personas. Speaking of real life, I’m fortunate that I don’t carry a grudge for all the harassment I endured growing up.

If anything, it’s been a source of great resolve and I’ve have written many times on the subjects of bullying, mean-spirited teasing and the like. Unfortunately, there are some of my nerd kin out there who just can’t let it go or, if they’re still in school, carry a sharp chip on their shoulders because they aren’t part even of the herd of nerd that as claimed a spot at one of the cool tables.

There is every possibility that the reason someone doesn’t socially advance has as much to do with the person than the environment. A bad attitude goes both ways. No one will be popular if he or she is always pointing out the mistakes of others, belittling someone’s intelligence or carries that chip on the shoulder that keeps others at bay.

I learned to embrace my inner (and outer) geek and like whom I’ve become. In the end, it’s far better to be smart and socially functional, than sit alone in the cafeteria.

 

Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and contributor to WDTN-TV2’s program, Living Dayton. More at gerydeer.com.

Star Trek Continues: Resurrecting an icon on the web.

In Local News on February 18, 2014 at 8:35 pm

By Gery L. Deer

DEER IN HEADLINES – Special Edition

(1967) Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock and William Shatner as Capt. Kirk

(1967) Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock and William Shatner as Capt. Kirk

It’s been almost a half-century since actor William Shatner first took command of the Starship Enterprise on Gene Roddenberry’s “wagon train to the stars,” space opera called, Star Trek. The show set a new standard for science fiction television and became an unparalleled phenomenon; a mirror which reflected the social and political issues of the torrential 1960s disguised as a simple action adventure series.

Today, 6 television series ( TOS, the animated series, TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise) and 12 big-budget feature films later, the human adventure continues on the internet with free, fan-produced episodes mirroring the original program. These low-budget, passion-driven productions vary in quality and professional look, but they are certainly keeping the Star Trek franchise alive and in its original form.

Fan made web series are not uncommon, generally produced with little or no money and volunteer crew. But what makes Star Trek different is the level to which fans and entertainment professionals have come together to recreate the Enterprise and its universe so … respectfully and in remarkable detail.

I just watched the most recent webisode of Star Trek Continues (STC), developed by a joint venture between Farragut Films, Dracogen Strategic Investments and producer Vic Mignogna. Continuing Captain Kirk’s original five-year mission aboard the USS Enterprise – cut short by network cancellation – STC’s production crew has recreated the look and feel of the original series, right down to the last Light-Bright-inspired, gumdrop control button.

There are other fan-based Star Trek reboots out there and I have been a fan of all of them. But, so far, Star Trek Continues has my greatest admiration; not because I dislike the other ones, but because of the overall production quality and desire to please the fans as much as themselves.

Todd Haberkorn as Mr. Spock and Vic Mignogna as Capt. Kirk

(2014) Todd Haberkorn as Mr. Spock and Vic Mignogna as Capt. Kirk

Many of these productions seem to pay homage to the original Star Trek, but take their own approach to it. I prefer STC because they’re not trying to ‘improve’ on the original. Technically, they’re using state-of-the-art production quality. But the application of that technology, at least from a layman’s point of view, seems to be tempered with a careful effort to make sure they don’t overshoot the personality of the original.

Additionally, each character is brought alive by the actor in his or her own manner, never trying to “spoof” or “parody” the original 1960s style. That’s a particular challenge for anyone sitting in William Shatner’s old captain’s chair given that his dramatic delivery of broken dialogue has always been fodder for ridicule. Fortunately, the actors taking up the gold, red and blue are doing it their way while fully representing the spirit of the characters.

Star Trek Continues Enterprise - 1701 bridge set. (Photo courtesy Star Trek Continues Official Facebook Page)

Star Trek Continues Enterprise – 1701 bridge set. (Photo courtesy Star Trek Continues Official Facebook Page)

Taking up the center seat as the unflappable Captain James Tiberius Kirk is actor Vic Mignogna, who, among other titles, is also the project’s executive producer. Todd Haberkorn dons the pointed ears as Mr. Spock and, for the first two voyages, Larry Nemecek joins the trio as curmudgeonly ship’s surgeon, Dr. Leonard McCoy.

Chris Doohan as "Scotty"

Chris Doohan as “Scotty”

As if in some parallel universe story, STC’s “Mr. Scott,” is portrayed by Chris Doohan, son of the late James Doohan (1920-2005), the actor who played the original Enterprise Chief Engineer. Doohan has had a little help with his dad’s accent but fans are grateful he took on the iconic roll his father made so beloved by millions – and the likeness is truly uncanny.

Plus, fans of Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters” program will recognize the young man piloting the Starship Enterprise as none other than Grant Imahara, who has taken on the part of Mr. Sulu. Of course, it wouldn’t be Star Trek without a compliment of disposable red shirts. Fear not, Trekkors, STC has more than you can shake a phaser at, including Battlestar Galactica’s Jamie Bamber (Lee Adama), who is the first red shirt to take one for the team in their premier episode.

Effects for Star Trek Continues are done through state of the art computer imaging based on the original models. Here is their version of the Enterprise.

Effects for Star Trek Continues are done through state of the art computer imaging based on the original models. Here is their version of the Enterprise.

Along with the nostalgic look, fan shows also try hard to meet the intellectual standards of Star Trek’s original run. Gene Rodenberry once said, “There are smart people out there on the other side of the television tube,” and he was right.

But back then, he wanted to deal with difficult topics at a time when television was still portraying Leave It to Beaver as “normal” life in America. Star Trek Continues is keeping to the creator’s original intent. In their second episode, titled, “Lolani,” for example, Kirk and company deal with the issues of slavery, human (or in this case, alien) trafficking and gender equality.

It’s tough to get those types of stories past the network overseers even today. Fortunately, however, a few “enterprising” fans have found a way to once again go boldly where no one has gone before and engage the minds of the viewer without insulting their intelligence.

Like its reconstituted web series counterparts, Star Trek Continues might simply be the dream of a bunch of Trekkie nerds who just want to dress up in pointed ears and sit in the big chair (being one of them, I can empathize). But with thought-provoking, original stories, top of the line acting and professional production, the program is, in my amateur opinion, far better than most of what Hollywood is producing for television today. If you have a chance, I highly recommend it.

Here are some links to Star Trek Continues as well as other Star Trek fan productions.

Star Trek Continues – http://startrekcontinues.com/

Star Trek Phase II (New Voyages) – http://startreknewvoyages.com/

Starship Farragut – http://www.starshipfarragut.com/

 

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Author’s Note: I want to thank Alex P. Michaels, from the Official Star Trek Continues FB page for correcting me on the number of Star Trek TV series there were in all. I originally had 4 listed, yet forgot about DS9 and the animated series; odd since I loved that show as a child and still watch it occasionally on Netflix. Thanks again.

Those thrilling days of yesteryear

In Children and Family, Entertainment, Media, Movies, National News, Opinion, sociology, television, Uncategorized on July 9, 2013 at 8:39 am

DIH LOGOThe Lone Ranger first debuted in 1933 from the studios of WXYZ radio in Detroit, Michigan. Created by station owner George W. Trendle and writer Fran Striker, the character is said to have been based on the exploits of Bass Reeves, a real life federal peace officer who worked in Indian Territory during the late 1870s. Accompanied by his trusty Indian sidekick, Tonto, and themed by the thrilling rhythm of Gioachino Rossini’s operatic William Tell Overture, The Lone Ranger became an immediate success.

By the time that last surviving ranger hit the airways Wild West lore had been incredibly popular for more than two decades, particularly in dime novels, on the radio and in traveling shows. Originally aimed at children, it is estimated that more than half the audience for the program were adults, many of whom had grown up with stories about western legends like Billy the Kid, Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp.

Unlike his historical counterparts who clearly had bad sides to their character, The Lone Ranger would be the ultimate good guy, with a mask to both maintain his anonymity and help confound corrupt government officials as to his true nature. In order to keep continuity for the character, the original writers created a set of guidelines that established who and what The Lone Ranger is meant to be. Some of the guidelines were a little silly, but others far ahead of their time.

For example, one of the rules stated that the Ranger would never be pitted against an adversary who was not American so as to avoid criticism from minority groups. In other words, it was already practicing political correctness. Another said that he could never drink or smoke and any “saloon” scenes had to be portrayed as cafes with waiters serving food instead of bartenders pouring drinks. One of the most interesting was a rule that stated he would always use perfect grammar and diction, devoid of slang and colloquialisms.

Many people who remember those days believe that actor William Conrad, star of the 1970s P.I. show, “Cannon,” was the original voice of The Lone Ranger on radio, but that is not so. In fact, Conrad voiced another famous western lawman, Gunsmoke’s Marshall Matt Dillon.

In 1949, the show made the ultimate leap from radio to the fledgling technology known as television, with Clayton Moore donning the famous mask and Native American actor Jay Silverheels as Tonto. After eight seasons on ABC, two of which with a different actor in the lead role, the show was cancelled in 1957. A year later, a theatrical feature was released starring the TV actors in a new adventure but the demand for the masked man never quite returned to its former pitch, though a couple of other failed attempts were made to return him to both the theatre and the small screen.

In 1981, a big screen version of The Lone Ranger was met with the harshest of criticism and dismal box office receipts. The movie failed partly because it was just a bad film, but mostly because the producers sued former star, Clayton Moore, to forbid him from wearing the signature mask in public appearances. Who says there’s no such thing as bad press?

The most recent incarnation of the Masked Man hit the silver screen this summer as a tongue-in-cheek Disney flick featuring Armie Hammer as Ranger John Reid (The Lone Ranger) and Johnny Depp as his trusted Indian partner. Unfortunately the campy tone that worked so well for Depp in the Pirates of the Caribbean series falls flat in this film, detracting from the nature of the characters and overshadowing the story.

Disney had the opportunity here to introduce two beloved characters of Americana to a new generation. But, instead of using the elements that made the show a success originally, they changed the formula and merely created another summer flop from a classic franchise. Hopefully, The Lone Ranger has not forever ridden off into the sunset and will get another chance to let audiences experience, “a cloud of dust and a hardy ‘Hi-Yo Silver!’”

 

Lost in space, the salvation of classic TV online

In Children and Family, Entertainment, Media, Opinion, sociology, Technology, television, Uncategorized on March 13, 2013 at 12:00 am

Deer In Headlines

By Gery L. Deer

gsspI’ve written in the past about the lack of creativity coming out of Hollywood these days and it seems increasingly worse. Reality television flows through the airways like so much Typhoid-infested water, riddled with disease and parasites. Thankfully, like an oasis in the desert, modern technology has provided a welcome respite from the gunk that is today’s network television.

By monthly subscription, online video streaming services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video offer TV junkies instant access to more than a half-century of programming. Forget waiting a whole week for the next fix of Gilligan’s Island, Cheers or NYPD Blue, now I can watch anytime I want to, day or night, episode after delicious episode from pilot to finale.

These services were originally intended to provide instant access to the same movies you used to go to the video store to rent. But for those of us who prefer bite after bite of tasty episodic television, they serve up a veritable buffet of broadcast entrees ranging from exciting 1950’s westerns like Gunsmoke to angst-filled dramas of the nineties like Beverly Hills 90210.

No more will my television fix need to be delayed by thoroughly staged yet somehow unscripted shows like The Bachelor or bad refits of The Gong Show like The Voice or American Idol. If you don’t’ know what the Gong Show was, your probably too young to understand any of these other references either.

But, Danger Wil Robinson! Because of Hollywood’s continual reinvention of the wheel, when you finally rediscover your favorite old show, you have to be sure which version you’re watching. Is it the new Knight Rider or classic Knight Rider. The Hoff is a classic? Now I just feel old.

Do you recognize this vehicle? Hint - it was on a live action Saturday morning kid's show in 1976.

Do you recognize this vehicle? Hint – it was on a live action Saturday morning kid’s show in 1976.

If you prefer your TV tray filled with something more modern but still thoughtful, well-written and engaging, you can forget the networks. You’ll need to subscribe to cable or satellite services for AMC, BBC America or other high-end channels.

Award-winning programs like Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Doc Martin, Sherlock and the new runaway hit, Downton Abbey, have successfully lured fastidious viewers from Fox, CBS, ABC and NBC for several years. What’s that you say? You don’t have cable? Fear not!

All you need is high-speed Internet, a computer, tablet or even a smart phone, and these programs are just an app download away. Faster than Trump can say, “You’re fired,” you’ll be whisked off to a land where all of life’s problems are solved in a half-hour and no one called Snookie would have ever been allowed on the air.

Ah, the good old days – when the same B movie actor in a rubber carrot suit tormented the Robinson family on Lost In Space one week and sent the crew of the Submarine Seaview rocking and rolling on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea the next. Back then, no one worried whether the lines were politically correct and the very idea of product placement was barely a glimmer in some Mad Man’s eye.

With my remote as my time machine, I can go back there again with a mere click of the play button or a tap on my tablet screen. The down side is that there’s always another episode waiting out there, somewhere in the ether. I move from one to the next, losing all track of time and action. Did I feed the cat? Is this still Tuesday? Oh well, I can figure all that out after I find out who shot JR Ewing. Of course, they just went and killed him off again –this time for keeps (RIP Larry Hagman).

When the rest of the TV landscape seems empty and foreign, these characters feel safe and familiar, like old friends I’ve lost touch with. But even after just enough time to write these few words, I feel out of the loop again, so I better get back to watching. Sometimes you still wanna go where everybody knows your name.