Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thought For The Week

Can consensus building work when the leading opposition exists at the extreme edge of the issue?

1] Consensus building can only work by attracting those in the center — ignore trying to influence those on either extreme.
2] Consensus building means we lose sight of the ideal solution and results in pleasing none — grab the core of the ideal and run with it despite the opposition.
3] Consensus building demands that the concept be described in the language used by an opposition — that will mean a successful communication will evolve.
4] Other

List your choice of answer, or an alternative in the Comment section. If you pick answer #4, include an example as to why you picked "Other".

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Fiction's Philosophy

Has Fiction Forgotten About Cooperation?

As Rorschach slinks into dark corners to find the gaps in the Watchmen mystery, one overriding theme is the way people cannot rely on one another. Fiction has long been either a reflective mirror of our society, or a guiding path to an alternative. Our present social climate is ushering in a stream of reflection with little on the alternative side. Mistrust is abundant, cooperation bears few examples. Reasons exist for the trend, but many arguments also cry for a counter to the trends.

Whether it’s the Watchmen, Taken, Angels and Demons or even the Jack Bauer look-alikes on television, more material is coming forth reflecting the distrust in our society. It’s been several years since the Hobbits cooperated with Humans, Elves and Dwarfs. Since then, we have seen one character after another offer a smile to an associate, only to use a cell phone in the next scene to set an obstacle in that person’s path. Great plots with conflicts now cast the protagonist at the right spot at the right time, but only to miss the very goal he seeks because he failed to trust someone in the previous scene.

Reasons exist for the plethora of mistrust. When our economic leaders shred the idea of trust with mortgages or skirt the social responsibility to aid a community,that leads to part of the public’s frustration. Yet, that image of mistrust is heightened as political leaders laugh at the concept of promises. The previous political campaign showed debates where one party embraced Joe the Plumber as a small businessman before they discovered the following day that Joe wasn’t his name and he failed to own his business. The society’s craving for fiction’s depiction of distrust naturally follows the frustration.

However, that’s exactly why fiction has the responsibility to lead with an image to counter that frustration. During the terror of the McCarthy era, the SF world showed how people could trust aliens. That era showed how Henry Fonda instilled cooperation against racism when he encouraged a consensus in 12 Angry Men. During the height of the Cold War, an episode of the original Star Trek asked the question, “Maybe they thought we were the aggressors.” Daring to ask that question defied the political hammer that pointed a finger at our real world people who asked the same question.

Fiction’s history shows a proactive role of countering the norm. Yet fiction’s display of cooperation has wavered over the past few years. We expect our fiction to reflect the real world, show us the details that make up scenarios we all face. But fiction also has the responsibility to show a path where few trod, to open up a consciousness that shows where society is missing the mark. That means showing the value of cooperation.

For more information about this article, click on the following link:

Worlds Meet

Earth as a Space Station

When corporate head Fabio Bianco directs his science teams on the space station Trikon to investigate a worldwide biological threat, he ignores the individual desires of his European associates. Instead he breaks down the barriers between the Japanese, American and Europeans by impressing some of the leaders with a renewed view of Earth. Dare we ask whether Ben Bova’s novel The Trikon Deception could meet the real world as the global discussions about nuclear proliferation continue?

Bova’s conflict enters around a murder mystery, hardly a comparison with nuclear disaster. Yet the crime arises from group and personal fears and greed that duplicates the way nations view the select nuclear club. Bova paints a scene where the interests of an Indian engineer and British politician vie for power over the European Community. The Indian owes a debt to the British fellow from a drug habit. The drives are basic human ones, but we could also view them as examples of how the poppy farmers in one nation are linked to interests in the Iranian faction that craves power with the bomb.

Bova’s Asian research team struggles for recognition with the global effort of the station, yet the single-mindedness could be similar to how a nation like North Korea tries to assert itself. The country is flexing its muscles, wanting recognition and ignoring desires of others. The Asian team emerges within a global community where most awards ignore the Asian skills. North Korea’s fear of being encircled by the West and Japan has recently been heightened by an abandonment of China and Russia. The actions by North Korea could resemble the attempt to horde the scientific breakthrough on Trikon.

Bova contrasts the realistic images of discord with an idealistic hope. Bova’s use of real personal drives makes us look into the goals held by nations and how various groups display a fear of lack of control. However, his vision seen through the eyes of Bianco take us to view the globe below the station as the corporate head encourages the teams to work together. Bianco’s declining health doesn’t stop his enthusiastic morale boost. If the station is saved because the teams start to think about themselves as station dwellers rather than ethnic group members, then maybe the leaders who vie for nuclear power could think about the global impact of the struggle on all the world’s members.

Words Come Alive

Show and Tell or Both?

We want readers to enter the mind of our characters, so we don’t TELL readers she’s anxious, we SHOW them how Jane wrings her hands, drops a pen, or covers her mouth with her hand. That’s the essence of SHOW versus TELL, and we’re always instructed to use that device. But dare we ask when we should tell instead?

Actually a few major reasons help us decide when to use either show or tell. Think in one case whether we are trying to move the plot between scenes or write about the action between characters. In one case, we’re filling in background or describing images. That’s different from where we want to enter the character’s head. Another reason in making the decision comes when we want to prompt a general image in the mind of the reader, which may call for telling instead of showing. Especially with dialogue when body language informs the reader about the mind of the characters.

Are we moving the plot, or standing inside the scene? If we’re trying to get Carlos to the meeting with Jorge, we may want to tell about where Jorge’s house lies, or the difficulty in driving past traffic. We may want to remind the reader about the ties Jorge has with certain other people. That’s the realm of telling. But if we want to bring in why Carlos was frustrated with Jorge, we might have him sweating with clammy hands on the steering wheel. We might want to be inside his head as thoughts go back to the last meeting. Carlos felt belittled and shrank from Jorge. Then we would want to show how Carlos looked, or acted.

How do we decide between show and tell when we’re in the middle of a scene? Actually a balance of the two might be important. Show means describing the action or body language of a character. Tell means using a word that informs us of the character. We could say Jorge was confused because we want to tell the reader in a short amount of time so we can focus on a more crucial item. But we could avoid that by showing his movement as he walks to one desk, picks up a paper, then without looking at it, places it down, only to walk to another desk and shake his head. The focus dictates whether we use show or tell — what’s more important in the development of the scene?

Dialogue can include the best example of a balance of show and tell. Lead off the dialogue with telling, and then show at the same time through body language and the dialogue. Carlos had a shocked look on his face. He dropped the stack of papers. “How could she leave him that way?”
Notice the way the blending of the two devices works together. We don’t know how the reader will actually understand the dropping of the papers. We reinforce that by indicating the word shocked. But we use the showing description of the papers to add to his comment about the situation.

When we dare to ask when to use the devices, we should think about how much we’re in the head of the character, whether the necessity calls for giving information quickly, or how we can blend the two in describing the action. We should ask ourselves what is the crucial activity in the scene. That will help us decide on the device.

Behind The Mask

The Summer Mega Event – Have We Had Too Many?

From The Infinity Gauntlet to Civil War to Secret Invasion, the summer comic mega event has practically become a yearly tradition. In the 1980’s and 90’s, the mega event was a special time that occurred once every couple of years. It was a chance to see your favorite characters interacting with others they normally wouldn’t see or fight on a regular basis and an opportunity to see them band together to deal with threats too large for just one hero or one team. Summer was also a chance to see your favorite comic book character doing something extraordinary in front of his or her comic book peers. But through the years, the excitement and novelty generated by these mega events has become diluted and I dare to ask if we comic book fans are getting a bit worn out by all these mega happenings.

If we’re looking at things from a sales perspective, the answer would be a resounding “no”. For comic book publishers, especially at Marvel and DC, the mega event means big sales and big money. The last four Marvel summer events, House of M, Civil War, World War Hulk and Secret Invasion finished in the number 1 position in terms of copies sold and total sales. They spawned numerous tie-ins and new comic book series.

From a character development and creative standpoint, the answer is a bit more complicated. Comic book readers and writers alike have found themselves having to shift gears and stop storylines abruptly because of publisher mandates to include their characters in the next big event.

When Secret Wars, the first big comic book company crossover, came out in 1985, I remember buying all twelve issues and thinking how amazing it was to see all those characters in one book. As a long-time fan of the Incredible Hulk, I remember reading issue 4 of the series. I floated in seventh heaven as the Hulk wound up saving his fellow heroes by bracing an entire mountain range that had been dropped on them by the Molecule Man. But Secret Wars, also served as a foreshadowing for what would happen with the Hulk in his own series, as the Banner-Hulk personality slowly eroded away. He had been the dominant personality when Secret Wars began. This would eventually lead to the emergence of the savage and then mindless Hulk in the Hulk’s own series (circa issues #293 to #300). This “mindless” Hulk would wind up fighting the likes of SHIELD, Power Man, Iron Fist, Thor and the Avengers and was ultimately banished by Dr. Strange to an inter-dimensional pocket universe called The Crossroads. During the Onslaught saga, Marvel’s summer mega event of 1995, Peter David, the writer of the Hulk at the time, was extremely annoyed that he had to stop his current storyline and make his stories connect with the current Onslaught crossover. Marvel mandated it. I remember sharing his annoyance as I was enjoying the current story arc in, The Incredible Hulk, and didn’t particularly care for the Onslaught tie-ins, which seemed a bit forced. I admit that my inner fan-boy came out once again when I read the finale to the Onslaught saga, Onslaught: Marvel Universe. I saw the Hulk after requesting the X-Men’s Jean Grey to shut down Bruce Banner’s influence in his brain, go toe-to-toe with the all-powerful Onslaught. The ensuing battle was so epic that it created a psychic tornado so powerful that the other heroes found it difficult to even approach the fight. The battle ended when the Hulk, after being pinned and goaded by Onslaught one too many times, unleashed a massive punch that destroyed Onslaught’s physical form, causing Onslaught to become a being of pure energy. The ensuing explosion also wound up splitting Banner and the Hulk into two separate entities.

While seeing the Hulk do something “incredible” once again was great, the moment became somewhat fleeting. Unfortunately, plotlines in the Incredible Hulk comic series from before the Onslaught event were dropped in favor of new, unwelcomed plotlines about the ramifications of Banner and the Hulk splitting apart. As a comic reader and a fan of the Hulk, I felt the switch in plotlines strained and uneven. The natural flow of the comic had been destroyed because the higher-ups at Marvel felt the need to make a radical shift in the plot and tone of the book. Apparently Peter David felt the same way since he wound up leaving the book shortly thereafter. I quickly followed suit too.

I eventually made my way back to comics and to the Hulk, but the Onslaught saga had me feeling greatly jaded (no pun intended). As I saw more of these mega events taking place, a part of me was happy that they were doing well from a sales and revenue standpoint for it showed that the comic industry was strong and an interest in the product existed. But at the same time, I hoped that my favorite characters like the Hulk would be left out of those big events unless it was fundamentally connected to what was going on in their respective title (or titles). I wasn’t so lucky when the Marvel summer event, House of M, took place with the Hulk getting dragged in. But I then got my wish and the Hulk was left out of the following year’s big crossover, Civil War. While Civil War was raging in the Marvel Universe, the Hulk had his own mini-event going on within his own title called Planet Hulk, which naturally segued into the next year’s mega event, called World War Hulk, which had the Hulk as the central focus.

In the end, the situation all comes down to dollars and how much the Marvel’s/DC’s of the world can generate. As long as mega events like World War Hulk and Secret Invasion continue to pull in big money, you’ll continue to see more of those events on a yearly or semi-annual basis along with more tie-in to mini-series’ or more spin-off titles from these events. That will happen regardless of quality, the threat of character saturation or whether the event has a logical or natural connection to the current storylines in each character’s or team’s book. The shift back to character-centric story-telling with less of these big crossover events will depend on the comic book consumer and how many dollars they spend as well as the number of books they decide to buy on a weekly or monthly basis.

Marvel seems to be getting the message. Summer of 2009 was the first summer in many years that they did not have a company wide crossover. They instead chose to focus on the ramifications of Secret Invasion, and the Dark RItaliceign of Norman Osborn and his cadre of former supervillains over the Marvel Universe.

In these tough economic times with the rising cost of an individual comic, comic buyers are being forced to buy only the titles that they feel they must have on a monthly basis. Ultimately, it's up to them to determine whether the mega event or the character/team book is more important.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Laughs Abound

New York City — Pigs Barred on Subways

In an effort to clean the mass tranportation system for school children, Mayor Bloomberg has decided to stop pigs from using subways. The aim is meant to decrease the need for swine flu shot storage in the schools.

“We all know how pigs like to use the subways,” he said. “This new policy will help us while also cut down on the costs of all those needles in closets.”

“We don’t want to be cruel,” said B. Acon, a spokesman for the mayor. “This way we’re simply stopping them from traveling on confined subway cars that could spread the flu.”

Acon did admit that the job would become more difficult for transit police to identify the actual pigs from some two-legged ones that plague women on the subway.

However, the 20 new pig-prevention turnstiles that need to be installed will provide extra shovel ready work for people without jobs. The newer turnstiles will be low enough to stop any unwanted pigs from access to the subways.

Acon did worry about increased passenger injuries as people might stumble over the lower turnstiles that could create hamstring problems.

The frequency of pigs is most often seen during winter months when groups use the subway to hunt for the roots of truff les in the tunnels. They groups were most often protected by various restaurant owners who desired the truffles, according to Will D. Boar, owner of the new eatery, the Four Hoofs.

Recent health studies of the subway have tracked the number of swine flu cases from the past year. However, the results show no connection between cases of the disease and the pigs who used the subway. Instead, the studies showed a significant correlation between high school students carrying paper and then becoming sick.

“We’ve changed our minds about the cause of the sickness,” said Hy Fever from the city’s public health bureau. “Now we think the flu is tree flu instead of swine flu.”

Plans to bar the pigs will still be in effect because the city’s planning commission has already purchased the lower turnstiles. “Besides, we can’t bar trees from the subway even though the paper comes from trees,” Fever said. “We are thinking of putting barriers around the trees in parks, though. That way people won’t get infected from the pollen which could contain the paper virus.”

Animal rights activists are angered by the extra burdens the new rules will place on the ability of pigs to get around town. “This isn’t a pig-friendly city as it is,” said Poohie Stye from the American Civil Pig Union. “As it is the new bike lanes aren’t set up to accommodate bikes for pigs.”

B. Acon did consider the increased government activity could seem like pork barrel legislation, but insisted that tree legislation was not about to happen.

Follow The Bouncing Brawl

Are Sports Organizations and Players Doing Their Part In These Tough Economic Times?

In these tough economic times, sports organizations are also feeling the pinch. Fan attendance and corporate sponsorships are down while ticket and concession prices continue to rise. But I dare to ask if these organizations are really doing enough to help themselves and the average fan.

In order to survive, we’ve seen numerous cases of companies both big and small not only cutting budgets, but also cutting employees’ salaries and jobs. Yet, sports organizations’ payrolls as well as player salaries continue to rise. If everyone else is feeling the pinch and making sacrifices, shouldn’t ballplayers too? Is that extra million or two in the grand scheme of things really going to make a difference?

In sports, if a player isn’t producing on the field, they are either benched or demoted. Because their contracts are guaranteed, there’s no fear that their base salaries will be affected. Of course, there may be performance-based incentives in their contracts that could affect them or the possibility of outside endorsements being lost, but generally they are assured that money, and lots of it, will be coming their way. For the average joe, who is making but a fraction of what even a mediocre player makes in any of the four major sports leagues, who works more hours year in and year out, failure to produce means the loss of their job. Ball players have always been held to a higher standard. Why?

Organizations need to stop giving in to agent/player demands and setting new salary precedents each year while then turning around and increasing ticket prices (in some cases close to 50% compared to the year before) to help pay for their new state-of-the-art stadiums. Why not pay a player based on incentive, or at least give them a smaller base salary with lots of incentives thrown in? Give them a reason to play rather than have them phone it in when their team is down by ten runs in the bottom of ninth.

The Response Meter

The Rise of Social Media

A few years ago, the term “social media” was just a buzzword for many business-to-business and consumer publishing/media companies. But with print advertising on the decline and more and more readers getting their news and information online, media companies have needed to adapt quickly to the changing times and current economic climate by having a presence on social media websites like Facebook, Linked In, YouTube and Twitter. Audience development professionals have had to adapt too.

Audience development professionals and marketers within these companies are being called upon to not only help set up an online presence on these various social media websites, but also to drive and track traffic and collect as much demographic information as they can. The primary focus right now for most publishing and media companies is not only for survival, but also for generating as much brand and product exposure as possible, which they hope will ultimately lead to more site traffic, more potential partnerships and ultimately, more sales.

The problem that many audience development professionals, CEO’s and publishers are having with these social media websites is how to take the site traffic and demographic information from these sites and use it effectively as a sales and advertising tool. The Interactive Advertising Bureau is currently in the process of creating a way to do just that with their “Social Advertising and Best Practices” document which contains definitions of crucial elements of social advertising, as well as policies on opt-in and opt-out practices. This I believe will eventually lead to the creation of the social media equivalent of a BPA/ABC statement which will give potential advertisers the ability to see a company’s traffic and demographic information in a quantifiable format. In fact, BPA is currently beta testing an interactive audit that hopes to include a company’s social media site traffic as well as information on a company’s other silos, whether they be magazines, enewsletters, trade shows and/or website.

In the meanwhile, audience developers will need to learn on the fly about social media optimization as well as obtain more online skills. Terms like RSS feeds, blogs, social bookmarking, tagging and photo sharing need to be added to their collective consciousness. They’ll also need to get familiar with web analytic tools like Google, Omniture, and WebTrends, etc.

It looks like social media is here to stay, whether we, as audience developers like it or not.