Thursday, December 28, 2017

Globalization: The Death of Culture?

A Drama-free Zone

This is a big topic, and if I wanted to invite the kind of drama that inevitably comes with the discussion of controversial issues, there's a heck of a lot I could say about it. But, while I love a healthy debate, I know that in the online world debates can turn nasty in a hurry, and I don't need all that nastiness in my life, so I'm going to steer clear of some of the more troubling facts associated with globalization's impact on culture. If you want to read more, just google it. Plenty of people have taken the time to share their thoughts on the subject.

My focus is going to be on one tiny way in which this issue has impacted my own life. And, as I said, it's tiny. Miniscule. Hardly a blip on the cultural appropriation radar. And that's where I want to keep it. Like I said, I love a good debate but hate all the drama that goes along with it. So I'm avoiding the drama.
A Transatlantic Christmas

Last week's post was about the movie Tommy and its impact on my childhood. I mentioned that I watched the movie so many times when I was very small that I almost feel like I've been to some of the locations shown, even though I've never visited England. Well, there was one scene in particular that confused me when I was growing up. I suppose it was so very English that my little American brain couldn't quite process it. Here's the scene in question:

Image result for tommy christmas scene

Wanna know what confused me so darn much? you see those paper hats they're all wearing? Do you know what those are? If you're English, of course you know what those are. If you're American you might, but then again you might not. If you're American, you may be just as confused as I was watching this movie as a tiny tyke. 

For those of you who may not know, the hats come out of Christmas crackers. What's a Christmas cracker? It's a little thing that looks like this: 

Image result for christmas crackers

If you want to read about their history, follow this link. When you pull a Christmas cracker apart it makes a popping sound and a few goodies fall out of it. They are famous for containing cheap toys, corny jokes, and paper crowns. It's the paper crowns you see in the scene from Tommy, though I've never gotten a crown that fancy from an actual Christmas cracker. One must assume those were custom made for the movie.

Okay, so I watched Tommy all my life and never understood why people were wearing paper hats in the Christmas scene. But then there was a lot I didn't understand about Tommy, so I chalked it up to typical Ken Russell weirdness. 

I reached my twenties without knowing anything about Christmas crackers. After all, the only place I had seen the little hats was in what was arguably a very strange movie, so I just assumed that was the only place they existed. Then I saw the movie Billy Elliot. I tried to get a picture of the Christmas scene from that movie, but couldn't find one. But I think you know what I'm going to say about it. If you guessed that Billy and his family are all wearing paper hats while enjoying their Christmas dinner, you'd be correct. 

So. My interest was officially piqued. What were these funny hats English people liked to wear during the holiday season? I needed to know, and because I now had access to the internet--a luxury which was unavailable when I was growing up--I was able to find out. And once I found out, I just had to order a box of crackers to open with my husband on Christmas morning. And, again, because of the internet I was able to do just that.

Wanna know something strange? Since I've started buying Christmas crackers (they've been a yearly tradition in our home for about seventeen years now) I've begun to see them everywhere. Yes, there have been a few years when I've had to order them online because I couldn't find any in the stores near my house. But sometimes I do see them. One year I bought them from Sears. Last year I got them at World Market. I actually remember one year, when I was teaching elementary school full time, one of the teachers at my school bought about three boxes of them and gave them out to her class on the last day before Christmas break. 

The Death of Cultural Identity?

So...if Americans know what Christmas crackers are and even open them during their Christmas celebrations with their families, does that mean they are no longer an English tradition? Is it weird that my very American children have opened them every year for as long as they can remember? That they look forward to reading the cheesy jokes and laughing at the lame toys? That they say they'll never wear the hats because it's just too embarrassing, but will still put them on for a least a couple of seconds while we're opening presents on Christmas morning? Is it a little sad that, by bringing this tradition into my own home, I've made it somewhat less quintessentially English than it used to be? Is it sad that my children will never watch Tommy or Billy Elliot or any other English movie which takes place at Christmastime and wonder why everyone is wearing paper crowns? Is it sad that they will never associate the paper crowns with England and English culture because they've grown so accustomed to the tradition in their own home? 

Have I committed a grave act of cultural appropriation? Is this why people are so concerned about cultural appropriation? Because if we blend all cultures together, pretty soon there will be no cultural distinctions left? 

Or should I just stop worrying, put on my paper crown, and enjoy my Christmas? 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Because Nothing Says Childhood Like Ken Russell

Yeah...I have pretty obscure taste in movies.

Never heard of Ken Russell? Not a lot of people have. Altered States is probably his most mainstream movie, and if you've ever seen it you know it's not all that mainstream. It's also not a kids' movie, and neither is anything else this director ever made. Nevertheless, he happened to direct my favorite movie of all time. One that has been my favorite since...well, since I was too young to remember. What movie is that? Why, Tommy, of course.

Image result for tommy movie

My Mother's Legacy

My mother was born in the mid fifties, so she was just the right age for Beatlemania when it took the world by storm back in 1964. But while her love of the Beatles did stand the test of time and persists to this day, they only held first place in her heart for a short time. A couple of years later Roger Daltrey's sexy voice knocked John, Paul, George, and Ringo from that pedestal in much the same way that Roger Daltrey's talents at pinball knocked Elton John from his oversized shoes in Tommy.

You should know that I believe every situation in life can be summed up by referencing a scene from Tommy.

So my mom is a lifelong fan of The Who. Which means their music provided the soundtrack of my formative years. One of my earliest memories is of me sitting on my bed looking at my bedroom window. It's nighttime, so I can see nothing outside. Only my reflection in the window pane. I'm about four years old and I know, because I can see it in the reflection, that my hair is in pig tails. To my left is a little plastic record player, the kind all kids had back in the early eighties. And what's playing on the record player? Tommy. The album, obviously, not the movie. 

Image result for tommy album

It was the first album I ever owned, and I played it all the time. I don't remember when I saw the movie for the first time, but I do know I was young. So young I didn't even know what it was about. I just knew I recognized the songs from my favorite album.

A Typical Eighties Childhood

Binge watching wasn't a thing in the eighties, but those of us who were kids back then sure didn't know that. We didn't have access to box sets of our favorite TV shows, so we binge watched movies instead. A typical summer afternoon involved spending a few hours in the pool, followed by laying our towels out on the floor so we could watch our favorite movie for the fourth or fifth time that week. Movies which our parents had recorded off of HBO, or possibly one of the other channels. If it was another channel, that was a pain because it meant we had to fast forward through the commercials. 

Favorites among me and my friends included The NeverEnding Story and Poltergeist. There was also a Cyndi Lauper concert we used to watch over and over again. In the late eighties we all fell in love with Dirty Dancing. But when my friends had all gone home and I was by myself, I watched Tommy.

Honestly, I've seen the darn movie so many times I think I have every frame memorized. 

Some Questions Answered...Well, Partially

A while back I wrote a post entitled What's Up With the Crazy Emotions I Feel Watching Early Supernatural Episodes? In it I described this feeling of nostalgia that I get when I watch the first two seasons of that show. I offered some theories as to what I was feeling, and I think I may have been right about some of it, but still felt like I hadn't uncovered all the answers yet. 

The biggest example of the problem was the penultimate episode of season two. First of all, the weather must have been pretty crappy all through the filming of that episode, because it's raining in almost every scene. But there's one scene in particular where Dean and Bobby are standing on the side of the road with a map laid out on the hood of the car. They look to be pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and it's raining. Not enough that you can see it on camera, but there's a large puddle on the opposite side of the road, and you can see the raindrops landing in it. 

I wanted to get a picture of the scene to show you, but couldn't find one.

Anyway, the first time I watched that scene I found it so beautiful I thought I might cry. But I also felt as though I had stood right in the spot where Dean and Bobby were standing. Which was impossible. So why did I feel that way?

Rewatching Tommy last week, after not having watched it in probably five or six years, may have provided part of the answer. You see, I watched that movie so many times as a child I almost feel like I've been to the locations depicted there. That's what happens when you combine a beloved movie with the amazing powers of a child's imagination. Though I've lived in the US all my life, and the two trips I've made across the Atlantic took me to Germany, not England, some small part of my soul grew up in the environs of Portsmouth (where the movie was filmed). Not the real Portsmouth, of course. The Portsmouth I saw when I watched Tommy (and if you've seen any Ken Russell movies, you know they rarely have anything to do with reality). But my point is, I saw that movie so many times, at such a young age, that I almost feel I've actually been to the places shown. 

And there are a few scenes...

First there's the scene where Tommy wanders off and ends up in a junk yard (again, I tried to get a picture, but couldn't find one). Well, this is not related to that beautiful scene from Supernatural, but there is a connection. Because what does Bobby do for a living? He runs a junk yard. 

Then there's the ending sequence from Tommy's Holiday Camp. This is the best picture of it I could find:

Image result for tommy's holiday camp movie scene big pinballs

Then there's this scene which we see during the song Sensation:

Image result for tommy movie scene sensation

What do all of these have in common? They are all filmed in rural locations where the ground is wet from recent rains. Just like my favorite scenes from my favorite two seasons of Supernatural.

Think I'm trying too hard to make connections which aren't really there? I wouldn't blame you for thinking that, but I know what I felt when I rewatched Tommy the other day, and I really think I'm on to something here.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The 5 Best Indie Books I Read In 2017

I added the review feature to my blog a year ago in the hopes of helping out some of my fellow authors as well as getting the word out that there are some great indie books out there that readers should take a chance on. The format was for a monthly feature, which means that I've now read and reviewed twelve great indie books. Of those twelve, five really stood out as being something special, so I've decided to list them all in one post.

Number 5

Reading the blurb for this book made me hesitant to pick it up. The premise just seemed so over-the-top. But what I've discovered again and again is that it's not the premise which makes a book good or bad, it's the execution, and this is a well-executed book. I love the in-depth glimpse we get of the details of Penny's world. Not just the details of her life as a vicar, but also of her undying love for Doctor Who. If you're not a Doctor Who fan, don't be put off by all that. It doesn't detract from the plot. Even if you don't understand the numerous references, you can still follow what's going on in the story. And if you are a Doctor Who fan, then reading this book will give you a nice little surprise on almost every page.

Number 4

Smugglers and Scones by Morgan C. Talbot

This is one of those books with such a rich and beautiful setting you feel like you're really there. The descriptions of the old house, and the history that goes along with it, had me wondering if it were based on a real place. I actually googled it, if you want to know the truth. If this bed and breakfast was real, I wanted to book a room there (it's fictional, alas!). This one took me by surprise because cozy mysteries are not usually my thing, but a cozy mystery set in such a unique and intriguing location drew me right in and made me want to keep reading.

Number 3

Under Midnight Lights by Bree M. Lewandowski

This one's a sequel, so I won't say too much about it. Only that it's a romance, but it's also a beautiful story about a young dancer trying to make it in the competitive world of professional ballet.

Number 2

Under Winter Lights  by Bree M. Lewandowski

The first installment in the Under Lights Duet. It was also the first book I reviewed on my blog. It's another one that took me by surprise, because I didn't think I'd ever want to review a romance. I'm generally not one for formulaic fiction, so if the plot unfolds in too predictable a way, I'm usually turned off by it. I was far from turned off by this book. But, of course, it wasn't the romance that drew me in. It was the ballet. The descriptions are so beautiful and they made me feel like I was really there on stage with Martina as she danced. This was a book I truly did not want to put down, even after I'd turned the last page.

Number 1

Home to Roost by Chauncey Rogers

Definitely my favorite of all the indie books I've read this year, and high up on the list of my favorites in general. It's the story of a little rooster named Brad, but this is no carefree romp through the barnyard. The story is dark and it's sad and it leaves you with more questions than answers, but in a good way. The characters are so well-drawn you almost forget you're reading about a group of chickens in a hen house. I'm putting it at number one because I appreciate how the author is not afraid to drag the reader into some really dark places. That's an aspect that is missing from the other, lighter books on this list.

All right, you've got my list of the five best indie books I've discovered this year. What are you waiting for? Go read some of them! 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: December 2017

Appointed by Fate by Skye McNeil.

This is not my usual genre, so it took me a little while to get into it. When it comes to books that fall into the category of Romantic Suspense, I generally prefer the story to focus more on the suspense part and less on the romance part. But this book offered up something a little different in the romance department, and by the end I was thoroughly enjoying it. 

First of all, I loved Cameron. He's the kind of rough around the edges guy I would never dream of dating in real life (I'm a nerd, I get along with fellow nerds, and I married a fellow nerd), but to sit at a safe distance and observe him in the pages of a book was quite the pleasant experience. I was totally routing for him and Joci to get together in the end.

But here's the thing...I wasn't sure if they were going to get together, and that's what I mean when I say this book offers something a little different. I know romance readers expect to get that lovely HEA at the end of the story, but honestly, that guaranteed HEA is one of the things that typically puts me off romance. I want to read a book that makes me feel invested in the characters. And once I'm invested, I want to worry about them. I want to feel that there is a real danger of things not working out in the end. That's what propels me to keep reading and find out how everything goes down. If I know it's all going to end in sunshine and rainbows no matter what happens along the way, it lessens the emotional impact of the book for me.

This book kept me guessing. Why? Because Cameron is not the only man in Joci's life, and for a good chunk of it I truly did not know which man she would end up with. I hoped it would be Cameron, but I couldn't be sure. For a while I wasn't even sure if Cameron was the one I was supposed to be routing for. That aspect of not knowing what was coming made this romance an engaging read for me.

In addition to a story that had me enthralled, I should also say that this is an impeccably well-written book. The editing is spot-on, the story never feels rushed or draggy, and the writing style did...well...what writing is supposed to do: kept me in the story without distracting me with odd sentences or contrived metaphors. This book is highly recommended for fans of Romantic Suspense as well as anyone who is tired of the same old, same old when it comes to romance in general. 

You can pick up a copy on Amazon.