Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cause of Death: Knocked Out By the Hero

Much to the chagrin of many people, I think too much. It happens all the time. Almost unconsciously. For some strange reason, whenever anything happens I can't just relax and let it go without having an opinion or attempting to fit whatever it is in my personal schema.

This includes movies. Even those that come with a disclaimer that "plot is sacrificed for the sake of explosions, porn, or kick-ass kung fu". Yup, even those I do too much thinking about.

Needless to say, an odd thought entered my cerebellum this weekend as I watched Star Wars: Episode III.

Did the Empire have a Casualty Notification process? How did they convey the news of the deaths of Imperial Officers and troops to the family they came from?

(I know most Stormtroopers were clones, at least through the Clone Wars Era. They didn't really have families, unless the Empire sent all the notices to Boba Fett, as he was their only next of kin. But the officers and other staff members had to have families. I don't think they were clones.)

I can't fathom the scope of the job of the Imperial Casualty Notification Office. Especially after the destruction of each of the Death Stars.

Here is how I think an Imperial death notice written after the Death Star explosion may have read:

"Dear Sir or Maam, 
Perhaps you heard, the Galactic Empire recent suffered a grave loss at the hands of rebel scum. Your son, (insert officer's name), was killed when these rogues destroyed our bastion of security, the Death Star. He, along with 31,622,963 fellow Imperial military members, lost their lives in the service our beloved Emperor.
In these sad times, be assured your loss is our loss. Your son was a valued member of our armed forces and the Emperor and Lord Vader have vowed to find and punish those responsible for his death. They will join us or be destroyed. 
Galactic Empire Secretary of War/Defense"

(By the way, on the subject of remembering those who perished in the Death Star explosion, check out this hilarious College video of Stormtroopers reminiscing.)

Of course, the idea of death notices should not be limited to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. What about the scores of other goons, henchmen, minions, and lackeys who were beaten, pummeled, or generally defeated at the hands of heroes? Who informed their loved ones? Did they have loved ones?

Take for example this scene from Bruce Lee's classic Enter The Dragon.

By my count, Bruce Lee knocked out 49 thugs in this 4 minute clip. Some just received a kick to the head, while others were flipped through glass, tossed into water, mauled by prisoners, or had their necks broken. It is, without a doubt, a cornucopia of kung-fu casualty creation.

But again I wonder, were the loved ones of these baddies informed of their unfortunate demise? Whose responsibility was it to write the families of these men and let them know their son, brother, husband, lover wouldn't be home for any more Thanksgivings, Christmases, or any other holidays? For whatever reason, I imagine a stereotypical middle-aged woman in a secretary role slaving over a typewriter filling out form after form after form and then getting them signed and put in the mail as soon as possible.

I wonder what she would put as the cause of death. Knocked out by hero?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Review: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

A few weeks ago at Barnes and Nobles on a block far, far away, I saw a book called The Strange Case of Origami Yoda on the “Interesting Books for Halloween” shelf. As a Star Wars fan since a long, long time ago and a fan of origami since the fourth grade, this book piqued my interest. Admittedly, it is a book written for kids, but that didn’t stop me from reading the back cover and eventually buying it. That's what happens when on the front cover paper Yoda is.

Written by Virginia writer Tom Angleberger, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is an investigation by a 6th grader named Tommy into an unusual classmate named Dwight. According to Tommy, Dwight is a weirdo. He plays with his food, says random things, and wears the same clothes for weeks on end. He is not ashamed of his weirdness and when other kids point out how unusual he is, he turns it up to another level.

While other kids in 6th grade are all about who is “cool”, who is a “loser”, and who is “weird”, Dwight embraces his role as outsider.

Then one day, Dwight shows up with an awkwardly-made green origami Yoda on his finger. He claims Origami Yoda knows all and can answer any question. Assisted by several other classmates, including the pessimistic Harvey, Tommy cites several examples of Yoda guides the kids through embarrassing moments, movie reviews, and most importantly, their relationships with members of the opposite sex. For many of the boys, Yoda’s advice is key to avoiding looking like a fool in front of the girls they like.

Throughout the book, Origami Yoda helps in more ways the kids realize. He helps them with their confidence, helps them not to panic, and helps them to not be scared of the unknown. Even if that unknown is the feelings of the cutest girl in class. He also helps them understand the weird kid named Dwight.

Although he doesn’t make them Jedi like the real Yoda did, Origami Yoda does make the kids better people.  And that’s what’s most important in this very likeable book for kids and Star Wars fans of all ages.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Book review: Ivy League Stripper by Heidi Mattson

One of the biggest lessons I have learned in 2011 and since I have been laid off of two jobs is that people have to do what people have to do to survive. Some people can sit on their laurels, confident that they will have a job and money coming in. That’s not to say they are completely secure, but they at least don’t have to worry about how they will pay their bills.

In Ivy League Stripper, Heidi Mattson faces the unfortunate consequence of being accepted to a premier college and not being able to pay the bills for it. Like others in the ranks of the unemployed, broke, or despondent, she is forced to hustle. Like many college students, she initially hustles at a school job and a restaurant, but when those jobs don’t come close to paying her enough for her education, she takes a bold step – she works at a topless dance club.

At first Mattson faces her own preconceptions of working at a strip club. Taking the role of a “foxy boxer”, she first works in a mock-athletic fighting entertainment capacity.  Her description of the job and how her and her co-workers “fought” each other to entertain the crowd reminded me a lot of pro wrestling. Although Mattson gets her share of bumps and bruises, she learns how to “sell” the moves and put on a show for the mostly male crowd.

While “foxy boxing” makes Mattson a few bucks in her quest to pay off her college loans and tuition, she soon moves from the ring to the pole and becomes a full-fledged topless dancer. Here she makes much more money and learns the ins-and-outs of the adult dancing profession while still, however, taking the approach of a distant observer. She writes about other strippers and their lifestyles and their quest for more money, to include capitalizing on the male obsession with huge breasts. She writes about some of the shade characters who populate her club on the regular, from mafia wise-guys to depressed cops to socially awkward romantics.

But Mattson’s biggest lesson doesn’t come from the stage, it comes from her heart. While doing what she has to do to pay for her education, she realizes that she is living a life her family, particularly her mother, might not understand. While she is rationalizing her occupation as a money-making decision, she fails to see the sociological impact her dancing has on her small-town, ultra-conservative family. By the end of the book, she is forced to face her family and their preconceptions of her. She has to prove to them that the stereotypes of her profession do not define her and that besides being more street-wise and aware of the shady characters of the strip club industry, she is still the same person and still has the same values her parents strove to instill in her.

By the end of the book, Mattson delves into the conflict she has with seizing her sexuality in a culture that worships her in private but is afraid of her in public. While men enjoy her powerful image on the stage, she feels seizing that same confidence and control (without the handcuffs and feather boas, of course) is looked down upon outside of the club. While women are increasingly more well-received for their brains and intellect, they are discouraged for using their God-given gifts of beauty to their advantage. Meanwhile, being a professional wrestler and selling a violent fantasy is not only acceptable, but glorified.

Mattson is a strong, intelligent woman who also happens to be beautiful. In order to accomplish her dreams, make money, and succeed at the capitalistic game we call the American Dream, she uses all of her strengths to her advantage with no shame. For that, she should be acknowledged as a role model.

I really enjoyed Ivy League Stripper. I enjoyed reading about Mattson’s self-discovery and hustle. It was very eye-opening, especially considering Tampa is one of the premier strip club cities in the US. I wonder how many of the local girls who use their bodies to make money have a similar story?