Veronica Mars

I like television, but when it comes to actually watching new shows, I fall criminally behind. I first noticed this flaw when the series finale of Battlestar Galactica aired, and I realized I had yet to watch a single episode. It made the Battlestar Galactica finale party quite awkward.

As such, I periodically interspice my steady stream of home-delivered cinema from Netflix with entire seasons of the TV shows I've missed. This past week, I've been watching Veronica Mars.

For those like me who missed out the first time around, Veronica Mars is the story of a southern California teenager who moonlights as a private investigator. Using her father's professional detective equipment, her journalistic skills, and connections to access both clandestine and criminal information, Veronica is tasked with solving any number of crimes and cases that cross her path.

Each episode features two different mysteries, one unique to the episode, and one encompassing the entire season. It's a delicate balance giving equality to each story without ever sweeping the other under a rug, but from what I've seen so far, the show does it very well. Never is the season-long story arc forgotten amidst the mystery-of-the-week arc, but never does it take unnecessary screentime.

I didn't watch Veronica Mars when it originally aired for two reasons: It debuted in 2004, and it was on UPN. In case you don't remember, 2004 was the peak year of America's 21st Century Imbecility. Bush was in the white house, Larry the Cable Guy was becoming popular, and Ashton Kutcher was everywhere. Such notions as taste, intelligence and culture were being swept away in favor of easily marketable pablum extolling shallowness, greed, narcissism, and pride in being ignorant. It was a three-way race between the proud-to-be-a-redneck bumpkins, the bleached-blonde Aeropostale boneheads, and the 'I can't distinguish between culture and heritage' urban ghetto crowd.

The WB was the worst offender at the time, a mantle soon adopted by MTV and VH1. But UPN was almost as bad. It's hard to pit The WB against UPN precisely, as both were always on the periphery of the mainstream, never quite making a blip on the cultural radar. Even if Veronica Mars was a good show, a good show on UPN was the equivalent of a mediocre show on Fox.

It's amazing how perception has changed, especially after only six years. While Veronica Mars looks comparable to modern society, there are still small, almost unnoticeable details indicating this is the product of another era (including a notable cameo in episode two by she who must never be named). I recant my original stereotype of UPN, as several worthwhile shows actually did emerge, Veronica Mars being the crowning glory. It stands up against the test of time, and I imagine it will continue to do so. It's well-written, well-acted, and engaging. If you have the means, check it out.


That's a Fair Gloopy Title

A few months ago, I watched A Clockwork Orange for the first time. I liked the film, but there's one thing about it that pisses me off.

Every single source I've come across labels this film as Science Fiction.

I don't get it. I watched this film intently, and except for a few pieces of mis-en-scene, this film cannot justifiably be called science fiction.

Before I begin this lengthy diatribe, let's establish what science fiction is exactly. Science fiction is a branch of speculative fiction, wherein fictional worlds exist with their own fictional rules, and in these differences from our normality, drama lies. In order for a particular piece of speculative fiction to be considered science fiction, a storyline must contain one or more of the following:
  • A setting in the future, or alternate timeline that differs from or contradicts historical facts.
  • A setting in outer space, or other alien world.
  • Technology or scientific principles that violate the laws of nature.
  • Extra-terrestrial creatures.
So let's break it down a bit: A Clockwork Orange takes place in 1970's era London, has no space travel, and has no aliens. So the final remaining element that could possibly qualify it as sci-fi is futuristic technology. And what's there? Not much. As mentioned, there are a couple futuristic, mis-en-scene elements but all are negligible.

The Korova Milk Bar is the first such example. It's where the film begins, and the first lines of dialogue refer to it. The milk in question is infused with recreational drugs, totally legal, and even sold to minors. I haven't read the original novel, so I don't know the full importance of this aspect, but in the movie, it's mentioned and forgotten. It has no bearing on the plot, and for all intents and purposes, might as well have been plain old milk.

Second; the decor. Fusing a 1950's amalgamation of pop art with 70's era glamour, Kubrick tries to create a retro-futuristic setting. This is abundantly clear in all scenes set at F. Alexander's home (the writer). But more than anything, the architecture, hairstyles, wardrobe and general demeanor just scream 1970's London. What may have looked sci-fi back then might as well be a period piece, now.

Next, the brainwashing. This is the central plot point of the film, and it's probably the best argument for the sci-fi nature. There's only one problem: It's not science fiction, it's just science. Brainwashing and other forms of psychological manipulation have been documented as actuality. It's totally possible to coerce someone away from violent behavior using operant conditioning, the people in the film just used a very roundabout method. By this logic, The Manchurian Candidate would be science fiction.

Finally, the notion of dystopia. Many film and literary experts include dystopian novels and films among the ranks of science fiction. And while a number of science fiction stories do in fact take place in dystopian societies, it's not an automatic signifier. In my personal opinion, dystopia does not a sci-fi film make. It's just another segment of speculative fiction. Dystopias are characterized by totalitarian rule, a lack of personal freedoms, and constant military force. That's not science fiction, that's China!

There are probably other aspects I'm forgetting, but I believe I've made my point clear. A Clockwork Orange is a great movie with great art direction, great directing, great acting, a great score, but is nowhere near a science fiction film.

So what is it then? I'll call it a surreal crime film. Good luck establishing an entire shelf at Blockbuster with that name.