Random Thoughts – Randocity!

American Idol: Failure to launch (artists)

Posted in concerts, music, TV Shows by commorancy on May 31, 2009

While I understand the hype about this series (the competition and all), I don’t really understand why this show continues to exist.  Yes, we go through each season and whittle down contestents to the final two.  But, after the winner is chosen, then what?  Oh yeah, they get a recording contract.  What happens after that?

Spotting Commercial Viability

The ‘judges’ (and I use this term loosely) seem to think they know what’s best in the ‘pop music biz’.  Frankly, if they could discover real talent, they would be working for a record company locating and signing talent right and left and not hosting a silly variety hour show.   But, here we are… and here they are.  So, I must honestly question the sincerity and realism of this show.  The whole thing is staged, yes, to find someone who can sing.  But, it’s really there as a money maker for whomever is producing that show.   The underlying values aren’t to get someone signed to a contract.  The real point is  to put on a show.  And, thats what they do, for better or worse.

Judges

It’s funny that they pick judges who are has-been recording artsts and supposedly A&R people like Simon Cowell.  What’s funny about Simon is that his ability to pick talent has been extremely spotty.  For example, he signed and produced Westlife.  Westlife is a boyband that’s a meager shadow of N*Sync and The Backstreet Boys at best.  What’s even more funny is that THAT is really his BEST claim to talent selection outside of Idol.  Every other artist beyond that isn’t even worth mentioning.

So, how do these washed-up has-beens end up judging a show that supposedly prides itself on selecting quality talent?  Well, let’s examine Idol more closely.

Winning Contestants

Since 2002, there has been (in order), Kelly Clarkson, Rubin Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, David Cook and Kris Allen (most recently).  Arguably, the biggest name to come out of the Idol circle is Kelly Clarkson with Carrie Underwood as a solid second.  The rest, well, what about them?  They may have produced records, but few appear to be listening.  This isn’t a good track record for Idol.

Let’s consider Kelly Clarkson for a moment.  Even she has had her ups and downs (mostly downs).  While Kelly has a resonably strong voice, the question remains just how commercially viable it is.  With a name like American Idol, you’d think that Kelly Clarkson would have taken the pop crown away from the likes of Madonna and Britney.  Yet, while Madonna’s star is fading, Britney has taken the crown over and firmly holds it as far as pop acts go.  Britney wasn’t even ‘discovered’ on Idol.  More than this, Kelly has a stronger voice than Britney, yet you see what that gets you.  Kelly isn’t even close to being in Madonna’s league and, while Britney has her own personal issues, her music producers provide a much better music experience than most of Kelly’s efforts.

Outside of these ‘winners’, we also have non-winners like Jennifer Hudson (who’s at least as well known as Kelly Clarkson and she wasn’t even a runner-up) and she’s also an overall more complete ‘star’ than Kelly.  Then there’s David Archuletta, Chris Daughtry and Clay Aikin.  These four people are the proof that the judges cannot pick winners.  In fact, these 4 people should have won Idol, but didn’t.  Yet, they are still successful on their own.

Track Record

Just looking at Idol’s track record, you can see more of the Idol winners have failed to be commercially viable than have been successful (Fantasia who?  Jordin who? David who?  Rubin who? Taylor who?).  The point here, that the judges clearly are not capable of spotting talent.   Even when someone has real singing talent, is young and good looking, clearly that’s not everything that’s needed.  Otherwise, everyone graduating from Idol would have become an instant success… which, of course, has not happened.

I understand the fervor over this show and I understand that the point in watching is more about the competition than the outcome.   But, isn’t the outcome why we come to watch?  Don’t we actually expect the winner to become popular, make great music and usurp the pop crown from Britney?  After all, that’s what Idol started out promising.

Idol is Flawed

The premise of Idol is flawed.  The barometer by which they choose winners is in versatility in singing already commercially successful songs. The real barometer of talent is both in songwriting and performing.  Even though someone has a great singing voice, that doesn’t automatically make them a pop sensation.  Becoming a ‘Pop Idol’  comes with singing unique new songs.  Songs that have not been heard before.  Better yet, it proves talent when the person can both write and sing their own music.  Artists like Prince and Sarah McLachlan are capable of this.  To me, this is talent worth finding.  But, today, commercial pop music is more about the look and voice than it is about songwriting.  Music producers are far too prone to run to Taxi and buy a song or commission their favorite songwriter to write a song rather than having the singer write something.

For me, Idol would be a much more rounded show if they actually required the singers to also write all of their own material.  This would be a lot more time consuming, but requiring this would also show the true talent of the artist.  This premise would show a contestant’s ability to write music under pressure and, at the same time, perform that music admirably.  Using this model in the show would likely have changed both the contestants in the show and the outcome of the winners.  I would also have a lot more respect for the winners of the show.  I also believe the winners would have been far more commercially viable as artists than anyone Idol has, so far, produced.

Idol’s days are numbered

We are now going into the 9th season and I believe this show is wearing out its welcome.  Talent shows like this do come and go, so I expect this show go packing probably in one to two seasons.  If it lasts beyond 10 seasons, I’d be highly surprised.  I’m honestly surprised that it has survived this long with its dismal track record of spotting viable commercial talent.  Yes, the winners can sing, but can they produce an album that people want?  In 8 seasons, I’d say the answer to that question is unequivically no.  The spectacle of the live performance is great, but it doesn’t mean the contestant has what it takes to succeed in the music business. Clearly, Idol has failed at it’s primary goal.

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Sunscreens vs Natural Tanning

Posted in fun in the sun, health and beauty, tanning by commorancy on May 25, 2009

Every year at this time, the zealots come out of the woodwork promoting sunscreens. After all, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry.  The truth is, no one has any idea of long term toxicity risks with regards to the use of sunscreen chemicals. Worse, people slather them all over their bodies without thought to the fact that your skin is the largest organ on your body. Is it worth the long term exposure and unknown health risks with the use of Parsol 1789, Mexoryl or Methoxcinnimate (or any other chemicals)? Unless you have a form of albinism or vitaligo, you should attempt to utilize the skin’s natural tanning properties over the use of chemicals in sunscreens. The natural sunscreen that appears in the skin is melanin. Melanin is much more broad spectrum than any lab created chemical at blocking the various wavelengths of UV (other than UVC, which doesn’t reach Earth).

UVA and UVB

Sunscreens protect you mainly from UVB (think of the B to mean ‘Burn’).  These rays are shorter wavelengths and only penetrate shallow skin surface layers.  These are the layers that lead to burning.  UVA is a much longer wavelength and is associated with deeper skin level exposure (and is thought to aid in premature aging).  Sunscreens have limited ability to protect you from UVA.  Note that the Sun’s natural mix of UVA and UVB (that reaches the earth) is up to 5% UVB and 95% UVA.  However, during some times of the year, the UVB can slightly higher than 5% (where the UV index is at its highest).  These are the times where burning is very easy.

Bad Burns

The use of sunscreen chemicals can promote a bad burn. The reasoning is very clear. When you use these chemicals to block the sun, these chemicals prevent tanning. So, the one time you forget the sunscreen, improperly apply it or forget to reapply it, you will likely get a very bad burn. Even though many dermatologists recommend and endorse the use of sunscreens, utilizing the skin’s own tanning properties helps prevent a bad burn. Melanin works 24/7 and doesn’t need reapplication every hour or two. Although, a natural tan does wear off over several weeks if you don’t keep the tan going.  On the other hand, sunscreens require frequent reapplication (probably every hour, especially if you’re in water or are sweating).  The UVA chemicals actually break down rapidly (as quickly as 30 minutes depending on brand, quality and body chemistry) once applied, so you need to reapply a lot more often than you think to maintain UVA protection. The UVB chemicals also break down, but much more slowly. Having active UVB protection without UVA isn’t that helpful, though. So, you need to reapply.

The point, however, is that you want to avoid a bad burn at all costs.  You want to tan and not burn.  Thus, the use of sunscreens does not promote natural tanning and promotes forgetting to reapply which can then lead to accidental burns after the chemicals have stopped working.  Remember that sunscreens give no warning when they have worn off. Worse, you won’t know your skin is burned until 3-6 hours after sun exposure.

Vacation and Tanning

If you will be traveling to a sunny destination, it is better to build up a natural base tan than constantly applying sunscreen every hour. You can build your tan slowly and steadily outdoors or you can do it in a tanning bed. Nothing ruins a vacation more than a bad burn, however. Having a base tan allows you to be outdoors without worrying about getting a bad burn. Yes, you can still get burned even with a tan, so you should always be cautious.  But, having a base tan reduces your chance of a bad burn substantially over forgetting to apply sunscreen.

Beginning your Tan

To obtain a base tan, start the tanning process at least 6 weeks out from when you leave to go on vacation.  You can do this outdoors or in a tanning bed.  Note, however, that tanning beds are concentrated, but also timed.  So, for example, 12 minutes in a high pressure bed is equivalent to about 2 hours outdoors.  So, if you can only do about 15 minutes outdoors in midday sun, then you should start at about 6 minutes in a 12 minute bed.  You would think to start at about 2-3 minutes, but 6 minutes isn’t enough to burn you in a bed in one session.  Needless to say, always discuss tanning bed times with your salon professional.

Another note about tanning in a tanning bed.  DO NOT USE SPF SUNSCREEN WHEN TANNING IN A TANNING BED! This is emphasized because it wastes your money.  Yes, you can use low SPF to aid tanning outdoors only, but never use SPF in a bed.  Even though a tanning bed mimics the UV from the sun, it isn’t the sun.   It is also time controlled.. and this is very important to understand.  Time controlled means that you do not need to worry about accidentally getting too much exposure.  The maximum you can get in one session is equivalent to 2 hours outdoors at maximum bed time.  Because the time is controlled and there’s little risk of a burn, there is no need for sunscreen.  Further, using a sunscreen in a bed is a waste of money.  If you spend $10-$40 per session, using SPF sunscreen completely prevents the rays from tanning you.  So, you will have spent your money for nothing, literally. When using tanning beds, you are paying for access to the UV. SPF lotions prevent that UV from tanning you. Don’t do this unless you really like throwing your money away.

Reading your Skin

Understand that a burn is red and melanin is also red (initially.. and oxidises to brown).  So, which is a burn and which is melanin?  If there’s heat, redness and/or discomfort (followed by peeling), then it’s a burn.  If you see redness only without any heat or discomfort, then that’s melanin.  Controlled tanning will allow you to build up a base tan without peeling.  If you peel, then you’ve 1) burned your skin and 2) lost your tanning efforts.  You want to gain color slowly to prevent burning and peeling.

Lotions

When tanning in a tanning bed or outdoors, using a high quality tanning lotion is important.  A lotion hydrates your skin before, during and after UV exposure.  So, always use a lotion as sun exposure is very dehydrating.  Tanning bed lotions can be used outdoors.  However, most outdoor lotions cannot be used in a tanning bed (it can cause reactions with the acrylic surfaces).  So, if you want to combine bed tanning and outdoor tanning, buy a lotion that works in a bed and also use it outdoors.  Again, make sure the lotion does not have any sunscreen at all.  You can buy a sunscreen lotion if you really need it for outdoor use.

There are various lotions on the market from various vendors.  The one thing I will caution you about is that some tanning bed lotions can be very expensive and, yet, completely ineffective.  You want to find a lotion that works for you and that provides results.  However, don’t be fooled by ‘Triple Bronzing Formulas’ or ‘Quadruple Bronzing Formulas’.  These are buzzwords that mean they have added either 1) color or 2) self-tanners (yes, like the ones you can get at the drug store).  If you want to see how you are progressing naturally, make sure to NOT buy any lotion with a self-tanner.  This may mean you have to buy the lotion from the Internet (which are cheaper this way anyway) than buying it from the salon.

You will need to read the label for self-tanners.  The two common self-tanners are dihydroxyacetone and erythrulose.  So, if you find these ingredients in the lotion, put it back on the shelf and find something else.  You may find that your salon does not carry any lotions without self-tanners.  The reason that salons carry ‘Bronzing formulas’ is that these lotions give immediate color (or, at least, within 4 hours).  This immediate gratification supposedly brings back the customers.  However, don’t be fooled.  You want a real base tan, not a self-tanner tan.  So, skip self-tanner bronzer lotions and find a lotion without self-tanners.

Here are a couple of manufacturers that make lotions without self-tanners:  Designer Skin (Intrigue and a select others) and Hoss Sauce (Dark, Super Dark and Ultra Dark).  I personally have found Hoss Sauce to be more effective than Designer Skin, but your mileage may vary.  There are some lotions that also offer tingle, hot or cold sensations when you are tanning.  Avoid these until you have a base tan.  Otherwise, these may interfere your tanning or increase your chances of a burn.

Note: Self-tanner color offers no protection from UVA or UVB.  Don’t be fooled by the color from a self-tanner.  It offers no protection from the sun and, again, can encourage a bad burn.  When trying to obtain a base tan, always use a lotion without self-tanners!

Tanning Beds

When tanning at a salon, you will find many different tanning beds.  The least expensive beds (sometimes $6-8 a session) are the least effective beds at tanning.  They should have a ratio of 5% UVB to 95% UVA (just like the sun).  However, you may find these beds aren’t that effective.  There can be many reasons for this.  Cleanliness in a salon is very important.  Bulb age is also important.  Many tanning salons have these beds booked every open hour of the salon.  These bulbs, then, get a lot of use.  Many salon owners try to cut costs by not replacing the bulbs as often as they should.  If you find that you get nothing out of a bed, the two main reasons are that 1) the acrylic is dirty and 2) the bulbs are old.  When I say the acrylic is dirty, I’m not talking about the part where you lay.  I’m talking about the underside of it.  These acrylic surfaces must be removed about once a week and thoroughly cleaned on both sides.  The bulbs themselves should also be wiped down to prevent any buildup on the bulb.  Doing this frequently increases the tanning capability of the bed to what it should be.

Many salons pride themselves on thoroughly cleaning the bed surface, but how often do they remove the acrylics and clean the underside?  Not often in many cases.  Yes, even the ‘expensive salons’ as well.  So, you should ask the salesperson how often the underside gets cleaned.

As far as tanning capacity, on the high end beds (high pressure beds), it is not uncommon to find up to 18000-20000 watts in the bed.  The low end beds might provide around 9000-11000 watts.  The difference in wattage (and UV output) is substantial.  The high pressure beds, then, will probably run between 8-12 minutes for the maximum time of that bed per session.  Low pressure beds might run between 20-30 minutes.  So, if time is important to you, the higher pressure beds get you in and out faster.

Note, never tan in a bed and then immediately lay out or stay outside for extended time without sunscreen. You are asking for a bad burn.  Do not do this.  If you tan in a bed and then end up outdoors in the sun the same day, wear some sunscreen outdoors.  Or, better, don’t tan in a bed on the day you plan on being outdoors.

Tricks for tanning in a bed

When trying to get your base tan in a tanning bed, you will need to move around in the bed.  Don’t lay absolutely still.  For example, lay on your back for a bit, then lay on one side, then the other, raise your arms, etc.  Doing this will give you a much more even tan than lying perfectly still.  If you stay still, you will get telltale bed marks on certain places like your shoulder blades and between your buttocks (where the acrylic touches).  Moving around prevents these marks.  You might even turn over and lay on your stomach for a while (even in a bed where you don’t need to turn).  You can also use a standup tanning booth to avoid these issues.

How long does it take?

This question can really only be answered by the salon operator after they have assessed your skin type.  Once they determine your skin type, they can tell you what you need to do in order to progress.  However, you need to read your skin after you have tanned at a salon to know if you are going too fast.  If, after a session, you have no color or redness by the next day, then you may be progressing too slowly.  However, if you are red, hot and having discomfort, you are moving too fast (burned).  If you do get a burn from a bed or outdoors, do not tan until the burn has gone away (takes several days).

For the lightest skins, it may take between 6-9 weeks to build a minimal base tan.  For medium skin tones, you can probably see a base tan in 3-6 weeks.  For dark tones, you probably already have a base tan, but if you are a lighter skinned, it may take 2-3 weeks in a bed.  As a side note, dark tones can still get darker.  Melanin works the same way in all people who can produce melanin.

Again, these are only estimates.  You should always discuss your skin type with the salon owner to set up a proper regimen that works for you.

Melanin Colors

This portion is to set expectations on how your skin may look tanned.  Note, there are two different types or melanin (pigment): 1) pheomelanin (reds and yellows) and 2) eumelanin (dark browns).  The darkness of color depends on which types of melanin your body produces and the concentration of each type. Lighter skinned people tend to produce more pheomelanin (reds and yellows) and less eumelanin (dark shades).  This mix gives the redish and yellowish copper or ‘golden’ colors. Darker skinned and olive toned people tend to produce much more eumelanin and with less  pheomelanin.  This color becomes much darker brown to black.   Darkest toned people tend to produce nearly all eumelanin and in high concentrations. So, depending on your body’s type of melanocytes, your body may produce a range between both of these types of melanin.  You’ll just need assess your tone after you’ve tanned.  This also means that, depending on your skin type and melanin mix, you may not be able to turn very dark brown (if that’s what you are wanting).   Or, alternatively, you may find that you get darker much faster than you thought.

You can gauge your skin’s tone by your hair color.  The darker your hair, the more eumelanin your skin is likely able to produce.  Melanin is also used to produce hair color.  So, red haired people will likely produce more pheomelanin.  You can see this color in the freckles of many red haired people.  Blonds are likely to produce much more pheomelanin than eumelanin (blond would be the yellow melanin).  Black haired people should be able to produce the darkest brown eumelanin tones.  Note that hair color should only be used as a guide as some dark haired people may only produce a lighter ‘golden’  tan.

Melanin of all types will eventually oxidise to a brown color from its initial color and deepen the color of the tan.  This oxidation will make the familiar brownish tones (yes, even the reds and yellows will oxidise).

Other Benefits

Getting UV exposure to your skin also helps maintain health with Vitamin D.  Sunscreens prevent the creation of Vitamin D as UV is blocked.  So, getting some UV exposure aids in stimulating the creation of beneficial vitamins.  So, before you immediately put on that sunscreen, leave it off for a small amount of time to get your vitamin D.  Put it on later to prevent the burning.

Suntans, Skin Types and Hormones

Some people feel that a suntan looks bad and prefer not to have a tan.  Again, that thinking promotes a bad burn when you do need to be outdoors.  Some people may think this way because they haven’t previously been able to tan.  Some skin types (type I) can’t readily tan.  For Type 1 and Type 2 skins, there is a product that may soon be on the market to help.  It is a peptide (melanocyte stimulating hormone) that stimulates the melanocytes to produce melanin in individuals who do not have this hormone or where the hormone is ineffective.  For many people, this simulated hormone works and allows people to tan in the sun or in a tanning bed when they previously couldn’t get a tan. Of course, this hormone only works if the melanocytes are functioning properly.  By having a base tan, this prevents burns and also helps reduce premature aging by blocking UVA.  Note, however, that you must get sun exposure to obtain a tan even with the use of this hormone.  It does not tan you without sun exposure.   So, the use of the hormone still requires UV exposure to obtain the initial tan.

Overall, sunscreens may not be long term healthy for your skin.   Getting a tan requires some sun damage to obtain the tan.  But, the melanin helps reduce the risk of burns and other related issues.  It’s up to you to choose what you want to do, but nothing in life is without risks.  Know that a tan is a natural skin process.  Placing chemicals on your skin is not natural.  Even though you cannot see or feel any damage by using sunscreen chemicals, that doesn’t mean no damage exists.  When you get a sunburn, you feel it and know the skin is damaged.  With sunscreen, there’s just no way to know if something you get later in life was related to earlier years of using large amounts of sunscreen.  It’s your choice, however.

Skin Cancer and Burning

Yes, I know, we’ve all heard the rhetoric:  Exposure to UV causes cancer.   I’ll leave this one for you to decide.  But, I will say is this.  Tanning beds produce UV.  The Sun produces UV.   UV is UV is UV.  It doesn’t matter whether it comes from the Sun or from a flourescent bulb in a tanning bed, it’s still UV.   But, as I stated above, the difference between a tanning bed and laying outdoors: one is controlled, one isn’t.  Again, it’s for you to decide which to choose.  But, because of varying conditions with laying outdoors, you could end up burned and not know it for several hours.  On the other hand, a salon will assess your skin and put you in a bed that’s timed based on your skin tone and type.  So, they are trying to keep you from getting burned in a Salon.  The Sun is not controlled or timed to shut off.  This means, if you lay out longer than you had wanted or get caught up in an activity, you can easily forget and burn yourself.  Burning is definitely damage to the skin and it is theorized that this damage leads to cancer… so you want to avoid a burn at all costs.

UPDATE: World Health Oganization (WHO) lists sunbeds (specifically) and all UV exposure as fully carcinogenic at all wavelengths (highest risk)

A new study conducted with mice, that I’ve yet to read, has classified sunbeds specifically and all UV exposure as the highest risk of causing skin cancer.  I’m not sure what prompted this change in view, other than a single study, but they have made this change.  Clearly, one study is not enough to make this determiniation, but that is exactly what the World Health Organization is doing.  There must be some subtext here that’s prompting this change.  Perhaps the sunscreen industry is losing more money to people choosing to tan rather than slather on the sunscreen.

State of the Art: What is art?

Posted in art, images, render, terragen by commorancy on May 17, 2009

This debate has raged for many many years and will continue to rage for many more.  In certain internet digital art communities this debate is again resurfacing.  Some people put forth that using found digital materials like, for example, 3D models available through such sites as Daz3d.com and ContentParadise.com aren’t art when rendered through tools like Poser.  Well, I put for this response to these people.

What exactly is art?

That is an age old question. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about ‘old’ mediums such as paint, canvas, pencil, clay, or metal or if you are discussing ‘new’ mediuma such as Poser, Daz, Bryce, Photoshop, Z-Brush or even Maya. The question is still valid and still remains unanswered. Basically, the answer mostly lies in the eye of the beholder. Thus, whether or not something is art is all based on opinion. Some people never believed that Marcel Duchamp’s urninals were art. Some people never believed that Jackson Pollack’s paint splatters were art. Some people never believed that Robert Rauschenberg’s mixed medium works (including tires and other found objects) were art. Some people still don’t.  But, does that make them not art?  No. Clearly, these men have been recognized as artists in art history.  Thus, what they have created is art.

The fact is, controversy has always surrounded new forms of art and new art mediums. There have been many artists who have taken existing pre-made structures and turned them into ‘art’.  In digital media, this is no different than inserting an existing Poser figure and using it in any given digital artwork.  Simply using Poser and a Poser figure does not necessarily make the work less profound as art.  

Creating things from scratch

For those who believe that you must create everything from scratch in 3D, I put forth this argument. Most artists who paint today do not make their own paints, construct their brushes and create their canvas (down to spinning the yarn and looming it into a fabric). If it were required by artists to create everything simply to ‘create art’, not much art would be created.  Most people would spend their time creating the tools they need to create the art.  Should you be required to create the graphite and shape the wood just to turn it into a pencil? No.  Sure, I admire those who want to create everything from scratch and I applaud them. But, that doesn’t mean every artist needs to work in that way.

If you want to take this argument further, then you should be required to write your own Photoshop application each time you want to modify an image.  Clearly, this is silly and no one would think this.  So, why is it that people believe that you must create every object you place in a 3D realized world and rendered image?  You don’t create every object you put in your home, why should you have to create every object you put in 3D world you create?  Again, this argument is completely silly.

Creating 3D objects

Yes, creating 3D objects using a modeling program is an art in itself.  It takes a lot of patience and consumes time creating these objects.  Again, I applaud these content producers. And I agree that it does make those objects art, but only in the sense of industrial design (very much like the camera or a chair).  The object is nothing, however, without a showplace.  Like the camera, if an object isn’t used in some way and no one ever sees it, then it’s not time well spent creating the object.  Thus, without a showplace, the object is not an artwork.  It is art in the sense of industrial design, functional art.  In this case, though, 3D objects only have functions when used in the context of creating scenes or together with other objects.  So, creating a 3D version of  a Ferrari F40 is great, but as an object on its own it’s really not a piece of artwork (other than industrial design).  However, this F40 could be used within a larger scene combined with other objects to create an artwork.  Then, the object becomes much more than its industrial design heritage.

That’s not to say I don’t respect and admire those who create 3D objects.  I do.  I applaud them and encourage them to create more.  Without such objects, artists won’t have the necessary things to create the imaginative scenes they can envision.

Art is what you make of it

Not to be overly redundant… ok, let’s…Art is what you personally make of it. Good art conveys emotion, makes a statement and usually motivates the viewer into a reaction (good or bad). However, whether a specific work is good or bad art is for each person to decide.  A 3D object, its texture and bump maps and all of its underlying components don’t and can’t both evoke a reaction and make a statement alone.  Only when these objects are placed within an imaginitive scene do these objects take on a new life and become much more than the sum of their parts.

Probably the single deciding factor for whether a specific piece of art is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is whether or not the work was intentional (i.e., makes a statement about something). Thus, if someone intentionally takes a listless figure and does nothing to it and plops it in the middle of a scene seemingly uncreatively with a few simple lights, the deciding factor is if the artist did this scene intentionally to make a point about some subject matter. Intent is the single biggest factor in any artwork. As an artist, you have to understand this single aspect. Everything you put into a scene must be intentionally placed there and and placed there for a reason. If the scene does not seem intentionally constructed, then the artwork has failed as artwork. An artist might copy those who create ‘amateur’ works in a statement about amateur artwork, but which then becomes artwork in itself. It’s the statement itself that makes it art.

J.J. Abrams Star Trek: Pure Fantasy

Posted in movies by commorancy on May 10, 2009

While I could start this blog off by discussing how the acting was excellent, how the characters worked well, or even how the origins of the characters worked, I won’t.  I could also discuss the amazing special effects, the tense moments that keep you on the edge of your seat or the thrill ride pacing of this J.J. Abrams romp.  Again, I won’t. Clearly, Abrams has made all of that (and more) work in this film. But, there is still one major flaw that nags at me. What is that, you ask?  I’m so glad you asked.

Starting a new Trek era

Crafting stories around temporal anomalies that change future events and unfold the entire Star Trek universe differently from the way all of the other franchises have unfolded the Star Trek universe is just not proper. Is rewriting the entire franchise in Star Trek’s best interest? Does putting forth alternate timelines as ‘the’ new Star Trek timeline make sense for this franchise? Clearly, it needs invigoration, yes. Using temporal anomalies? No. For me, this type of story is a complete cop-out. It is not creative, it is only a way to make it appear creative when its sole goal is just a way for Abram’s to take creative liberties with the characters, universe, series and, yes, even the franchise itself.  So, now Abrams can rewrite the Star Trek universe in any way he sees fit.  This one anomaly lets Abrams write whatever he wants.  For this reason alone, this goes against the grain of everything Gene Roddenberry had inspired in Star Trek.

By rewriting the timeline (and, arguably, the very franchise itself), J.J. Abrams could put an end to the ‘Prime Directive’, rewrite rules, change events, kill characters off at will, etc.  He could take the series in a more militaristic direction and entirely do away with what originally insipired Gene Roddenberry.  This storyline opens the door to making a lot of changes to the Star Trek universe by giving Abrans complete liberty over the entire series and, indeed, the entire franchise.

At a fundamental level, this movie works as a standalone.  As a basis for the beginning of a new Star Trek series and, in fact, franchise is just wrong on so many levels.  Temporal anomalies have no place in the creation, let alone re-creation, of the series.  As of now, the entire timeline is left hanging at the end of this movie with no resolution.  So, it is up to Abrams and Paramount at this point.  Clearly, the success of this film will guide Star Trek’s future.  If the success of this film is high, then Paramount may actually let Abrams continue down this pretentious road creating more Fantasy Trek.

Gene Roddenberry created this series in a certain way.  Unfortnately, Abrams’ vision does not hold true to that ideal.  There are plenty of ways to craft creative, thoughtful, evocotive story lines to make a film work.  

Unfortunately, there are two story writing techniques that are always considered trite and even  ‘ex deus machina’  and should be avoided at all costs (one was used in this film):

  • The main character wakes up at the end revealing the entire film as a dream sequence 
  • Temporal anomalies that allow the writer to take liberties by altering a character’s timeline or by rewriting the underlying story itself

End of Roddenbery Trek Era

As of the recent passing of Majel Barret Roddenberry, this signals the end of Trek as we knew it.  Rod Roddenberry (Gene’s Son) is still around, yes.  However, it certainly appears that he either has no creative control over Trek or he is letting Abrams take these liberties with Star Trek.  Either way, this film signals the end to the Roddenberry created Trek universe and a new non-Roddenberry beginning that has no basis in Roddenberry’s original vision.

All films, video games, events, series or any other creative derivatives from Abram’s Trek has nothing to do with Gene’s Trek.  It is a ‘Fantasy Trek’, if you will.  A ‘what if’ approach to Trek.  This Abrams Trek is a derivative work and is not and should not be considered part of the Gene Star Trek Canon.  In fact, this new Trek never existed.  Abram’s Trek didn’t (and doesn’t) exist because this film’s anomaly created an entirely new timeline for Kirk, Spock, Uhura and the rest.   A timeline that never existed before Abrams took the helm.  Yes, Abrams has clearly created a timeline that isn’t Trek.

On the one hand, it’s a brilliant idea for Canon.  Meaning, it marks the perfect delineation between Roddenberry’s works and Abrams’ works.  So, Abrams has made it extremely easy to mark anything based on Abrams ‘rethink’ as fantasy (never existed).

Fantasy Trek

So, Abrams Star Trek universe never existed.   It existed only because of the temporal anomaly.  And now, Ambassador Spock (Roddenberry’s Spock) is trapped in that timeline….in a timeline that never existed or that never should have existed.  So, technically, the only person who really makes a difference in Abrams’ universe is Ambassador Spock.  And the only goal in Abrams’ Fantasy Trek should be at getting Ambassador Spock back to the ‘real’ Trek universe’s present and correct the timeline.

The series can take one of two approaches at this point.  1) To continue on with this Fantasy Trek universe exploring Abrams’ fake Trek universe.  Granted, this might be fun to explore for a while. but ultimately… 2) To focus on getting Ambassador Spock back to the Roddenberry created universe and get the timelines corrected.

So, I would be fine with an approach where Abrams’ actually acknowledges his newly created Trek timeline as false and then later unfolds events such that the sole goal is to get Ambassador Spock back to Roddenberry’s universe.  That, for me, should be the only goal in this new fantasy romp.  There is really no other direction that this can take.  If Abrams and, indeed, Paramount actually try to foist this Fantasy Trek off on the Star Trek fans as the ‘new’ canon would be insulting on so many levels.  It would also be insulting to the original Trek series, to Gene and Majel Roddenberry and to everything of previous Trek lore.

To actually consider foisting Abrams’ Fantasy Trek on the fans as the ‘new’ canon invalidates Gene’s Star Trek entirely.  It nullifies previous Trek series and canon by saying that it never existed in that way.  It says that the Abrams’ Trek is the way things are and it says that Roddenberry’s Trek was fantasy.  How can anyone possibly be that pretentious with storytelling?  No.  The only direction is to acknowledge this Trek as pure fantasy and move forward from there.  Otherwise, this alternate time line could completely change events that lead up to the creation of Star Trek: TOS, TNG, DS9 and Voyager… let alone the previous films.  No, Abrams must acknowledge this timeline is incorrect and set out to correct it and get Ambassador Spock back to his present.

Both Abrams and Paramount need to be extremely careful at the handling of this series from this point so as to not insult Trek (or the fans’ intelligence or knowledge of Trek).

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