You are not a wizard

I’ve been noticing something about Harry Potter: it’s obviously a fantasy, where the reader (a child) fantasizes they are in the world. A magical world of spells and wands and flying brooms heroes and villains!

But there is no chance the reader could be part of that world. Firstly, the wizard world is hidden. You apparently have to be a wizard to get to the secret platform at the train station. Their shopping district is also secret. They have their own newspapers. They live in their own parallel world they hide from the rest of us. Most wizards seem to be descended from a long line of wizards.

Secondly, one cannot “become” a wizard, one is born a wizard. This strikes me as especially un-American (well they ARE British after all…). Even though occasionally a wizard is born to a Muggle (non-wizard) parent or even parents, no one ever starts out a Muggle and trains to be a wizard. And yes, I know a female wizard is called a witch in Harry Potter land. If that is the thing you are most concerned about for this post, then never mind; just stop reading please.

This all goes back to the Princess fantasy: the fantasy goes-

  • I deserve better than my current lot in life
  • My parents / life are actually unjustly foisted upon me
  • My “real” parents / life / what have you are fabulous
  • At some point I will be rescued from this ersatz life and brought into the fantasy life I deserve

…all of which is of course malarkey.

I blame the Messiah notion– the idea that someone external to yourself is going to come around and save you, just because they feel like it. Until then, you just sit tight and wait!

But how does this relate to Star Wars, you are asking. What? You weren’t asking that? Well shame on you! The relation is this: in the first trilogy, the Force is seemingly something you practice, like Kung Fu. There is a bit of destiny involved, because Luke’s father was “strong in the Force,” but for the most part we follow the Kung Fu movie arc where the student studies at the foot of the master.

THEN, betrayal: in the prequel trilogy, Lucas decides that now, you are basically BORN with the Force- it’s some kind of weird microscopic bullshit. If you aren’t born with it, well then tough. That’s just great. Note that even in feudal Japan, which basically had a caste system, you could be a warlord badass; you just wouldn’t be royalty.

So let’s generalize “being a wizard” or “being a princess” or “having the Force” to just “being fabulous.”


Here’s the especially disturbing part of this: while I obviously like the Puritain Work Ethic fairy tale, where you can get magic powers and be fabulous through practice, I believe that to the majority reader, there is an actual appeal to the unreachable nature of the fantasy. It’s this:

The reader is in no danger of being blamed for not being fabulous. Because they weren’t born to be fabulous. Yeah my life is sucky, but it’s not my fault– Not a wizard, not a secret princess. Oh well!

So I say: Fuck that!

Movie recommendations

These are the somewhat obscure “cult classics” Anisa, Diane and I were talking about over the weekend. All these movies I enjoy watching, and actually I’ve seem them all many times.

Repo Man:
Slacker / punk rock voice of our generation. Highly quotable and anarchic… It’s a very meta movie, with the flimsy plot simultaneously developing and getting more irrelevant as the movie continues… by the end it’s completely insane, but the main character (Otto, played by Emilio Estevez) sort of transcends everything.

The Wicker Man:
1960’s crime/horror movie about an upright, anal-retentive Christian cop investigating a kidnap/murder case way out in the skerries of Scotland. The twist is, the village is entirely pagan/wiccan and is steadily making him lose his mind.

Phantom of the Paradise:
“Faust” crossed with “Phantom of the Opera” done as a 1970’s rock opera. Nerdy loser Winslow Leach sells and then loses his music to luciferian rock star Swan, and then exacts ghastly revenge by terrorizing the production company. Awesome!

Rock and Rule:
Extremely odd 1980’s cartoon about an aging rock star (sort of patterned after David Bowie) who is attempting to steal the voice of a younger rock star, and also summon a demon by sacrificing an entire crowd of concertgoers. Blondie and Lou Reed perform the music. This movie was too weird for audiences; it sunk the production company.

Bugsy Malone:
A gangster movie, with children playing all the parts and shooting each other with “splurge guns,” which are Thompson machine guns that shoot wads of whipped topping. Oh and it’s also a musical. Scott Baio and a pre-Taxi Driver Jodie Foster star. Watch to appreciate its insanity and wonder to yourself “who thought this was a good idea?!”

Faster, Pussycat, Kill, Kill! :
Russ Meyers’ greatest movie, it is definitive of his genre: black and white, tall, powerful, large-bosomed ANGRY women beating up on men. I recommend self-medication while watching this movie, it’s one of the more “challenging” of the movies I’m listing here.

perhaps the MOST “challenging” film I’m listing here… it’s the future and the elites live in a bubble where they are impervious to aging or death. Outside the bubble, the rabble are constantly terrorized by horse-riding gladiators (one of whom is Sean Connery), who worship ZARDOZ, a flying stone head the size of a castle, who regularly vomits his gifts of guns onto them. Everything I described happens in the first ten minutes, and it gets crazier from there. You’ll be saying “what the FUCK!?” a lot during this movie, but on repeated viewings it makes more sense.

Kung Fu movies:
some people aren’t into kung-fu movies. But I am!

Master of the Flying Guillotine:
The movie the “Street Fighter” games were based on. There’s a martial arts competition, and warriors from different countries all show up, exhibiting their particular styles. The Indian guy can stretch his arms. The Japanese samurai is a badass, never smiles, and of course cheats. And the villain: the Master of the Flying Guillotine, a blind monk who is actually an assassin come to kill the protagonist. His weapon is a beanie on a chain that yanks the victim’s head off. Stolen soundtrack by Neu!

The Bride With White Hair:
1980’s kung-fu magic realism. In a fantastic setting, clans of kung-fu masters (representing “order” here) defend against blood-drinking barbarian hordes (representing “chaos”), led by a hermaphroditic warlock tyrant. The main character is a maverick disciple of the clans, who falls in love with the “wolf girl,” the unbeatable hatchetman for the blood cults. It’s like Romeo and Juliet with flying, Jedi-level kung fu, potions, and demon magic.

Tarantino presents Iron Monkey

I just saw Iron Monkey (the 1993 version). I liked it; he fight scenes were good and it followed what I think of as the Hellraiser plotline– just as the protagonists are getting used to dealing with the villain, a bunch of tougher, meaner villains show up!

Something I didn’t get is the kid is supposed to be Wong Fei Hung, who is sort of a folk hero… Much as Iron Monkey is sort of a folk hero, except Wong Fei Hung was a real historical person.

How did I make this connection? I totally didn’t; I watched Quentin Tarantino’s commentary on the DVD. And it was actually pretty informative! It sounds silly but it’s easy to confuse Tarantino’s annoying on-screen persona with his actual identity, and his interview will do a lot to clarify the difference. Dude knows his kung-fu movies.

One element I liked in Iron Monkey is the use of poison. Sorta like Jade Fox in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. But you know, the direction and romance of the characters in Crouching Tiger make that a superior movie, in my opinion. I can’t help but imagine hypothetical movies, like what if the kung fu in Iron Monkey had the story and direction (and budget) of Curse of the Golden Flower?

Part of this is unreachable for a single movie. Not only did you get a director in CTHD who specializes in romances (Ang Lee), but you also have a rich backstory which is only hinted at in the course of the plot. The Crane-Iron pentology is, yes, FIVE books, and CTHD is only the 4th one.

So you get the love story, which is the love that can never be which has apparently spanned decades. But my favorite plotline is the saga of Jade Fox. Not only is she the big baddie they must fight, she’s also extremely sneaky. She’s killed and betrayed the old master, so we know she’s a snake.

Jade Fox is also a “tragic villain” if there is such a thing… she did everything she could to be the best, even betraying people who trusted her (the old master). But in the end, she’s just not good enough– unable to decipher the stolen kung-fu manual, she can only ape the motions of the master. In the end she is surpassed by her own student, doomed to mediocrity. And her anguish is visible in her face, her venom stems from a deep sense of failure and a frustration that has become a seething hatred.

There are even crazier elements in CTHD. You have exotic poisons, stolen kung-fu manuals, spies, a princess posing as a man, rebel chieftains, a magic sword, implausible kung fu weapons… damn!!

Anyway inspired by Tarantino, I’m listing a bunch of Woo-ping Yuen movies on my queue now.


JOE: You know how you can search for “a” in Google
JOE: and there will be a lot of results
JOE: and you can search for “aa” in Google
JOE: and there will be less results?
JOE: and so on for more and more a’s ?

BRAIN: Uh yeah?

JOE: well when you get far enough down the numbers go up again

BRAIN: Why don’t you just make a graph of your data there Joe

JOE: Oh, I did already. It’s on my homepage.

BRAIN: Okay you win

The great Zafu adventure pt 1

Along with the rest of the readers of Make, I’ve discovered Ponoko. It’s a service where you upload your designs for things that are cuttable with 2D CNC machines, in wood or plastic. Then they list your product for sale.

The tricky part is where they have federated all the automated mills they can find… that way, the consumer is basically shipping only from the nearest factory, and thus saves on shipping. I like this because it is also more earth-friendly (which is also connected to why it is cheaper).

All they need now is to make it more like Cafepress, where they handle the billing and the shipping… With Cafepress, you set the price above their costs and just collect the difference for a profit. Related is Zazzle, which decouples the design from the product.

With Ponoko, right now you still collect the money and arrange shipping yourself, but they ship it directly to the customer for self-assembly designs.

My first design requires zafu, which in turn will require buckwheat hulls. Thus far my cheapest source for buckwheat hulls is $3 per pound, and is… far away. Because buckwheat is seemingly all grown far from me.