The Strike of 2016: a memoir

I wrote this as an email to a friend, but I enjoyed it so much, I’m going to share it here as well:

I breathed a sigh of relief. Even laughed a little. There wasn’t going to be a strike now, was there? The governor himself had released a statement saying that APSCUF (the teacher’s union) and PASSHE (the state system) basically had no reason to not get a contract together and avoid a strike.

But then APSCUF started posting Facebook videos and tweeting. PASSHE had given them one final offer and walked away from the negotiating table. If both sides didn’t come to an agreement by 5 a.m. the next morning, the teachers would strike.
 
1 am: APSCUF tweeted: “We’re still here.”
2 am. 3 am. 4 am. Still the same message tweeted from APSCUF.
 
5:02 a.m. My phone buzzes with APSCUF’s tweet (since I had set their tweets to come to me as text messages). The strike was happening.
 
Everything devolved into utter madness. Actually, not really. Life went on pretty much as normal. Except it wasn’t.
 
Sean and I ate breakfast together (since, for some reason, there was no one in my scheduled 8 am class), and walked to the library. Work went on as normal. A yellow car–perhaps a Mustang–pulled up beside us. Someone, holding a large American flag, held it out the window. They chanted a chant from SpongeBob: https://youtu.be/OzjQaOmEzqQ. Not that I watch SpongeBob. My roommate is a fan of it, though.
 
In front of the library, a large group of students and teachers had gathered. I forgot when I first saw the dinosaur. But there he was–a rather small for his size Tyrannosaurus Rex, walking down the street.
 
My coworker, Katie Lundy, was thrilled about the strike. “I’ll be disappointed if there isn’t a strike,” she had said yesterday. “The people in power need to be taken out!” Today, her eyes glinted wickedly. “I love anarchy!” she grinned.
 
I left the library to go to class, more of a symbolic gesture than anything. As I reached the picket line, I ran into my professor for the class I was going to. I took a picture of her and her comrades protesting with pro-APSCUF signs in their hands.
 
When I returned to the library for another hour or so of work, there was even more madness: an impromptu band had been set up, with a number of students playing brass instruments. Katie was in the middle of the crowd, participating in a dance battle. I wistfully remembered the innocent days when I myself dance battled my old friend Ian. But those days were no more.
 
Sean and I discussed under what situations I should consider trying to transfer colleges. He himself predicted that the strike would last three weeks. If the strike was merely “political posturing,” it would be resolved in three days, he said; but if APSCUF was trying to take the “moral high ground,” as he believed it was, the strike would last three weeks.
 
But my boss, a lady in her 50s named Janet, after reviewing the final proposed contract from PASSHE, believed that the strike was, in fact, political posturing.
 
The strike continued the next day. Sean and Anne and I watched Citizen Kane. My dad texted me, warning me that although “the whole strike thing” was new to me, people would get emotionally charged, maybe even violent. I assured him that the emotional part of the strike was the brass band. “The titanic started out with music too,” he replied.
 
But there weren’t as many people. A number of students (three that I knew) had taken a bus to Harrisburg to protest outside Chancellor Brogan’s office. “Chancellor Brogan, get off your a–! I’d rather be in class!” my friend told me they chanted. I caught a glimpse of the dinosaur, and then it disappeared from my life forever.
 
Before the giant debate viewing party, Sean and I tried to improvise a song about the strike. It went something like this:
 
“APSCUF
“Is gonna play rough.
“‘Cause PASSHE
“Is being nasty!”
 
The debate was fun to watch. Anne and Sean and I were interviewed by a guy from the local paper, but I don’t think our interview made it into the paper.
 
Friday came. At least I had one class that day–Dr. Roger Webster, my Discrete Structures professor, wasn’t striking. I checked my school email.
 
From: Dr. Roger Webster
Subject: out sick today
 
My dad called me, and we threw around ideas about under what conditions I should consider trying to transfer to, say, Pitt or York. We were about to hang up when my roommate signaled for my attention.
 
“Hey, Ben!” he said. “The strike’s over!”
 
So it was. APSCUF and PASSHE had reached a tentative agreement that, once finalized, would extend the teacher’s contract until 2018.
 
I tweeted a video of the “Hallelujah Chorus”: “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! For the Lord God Omnipotent raineth!”
 
And so He was, for it was raining outside.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rambling about Pete’s Dragon, King Kong, The Shaggy Dog, and Remakes

The Pete’s Dragon remake is coming out tomorrow (as of the time I’m writing this sentence), and the reviews that have come out so far almost unanimously agree that it’s BETTER than the original. This makes me a little relieved, since I was a bit worried that it would be more The Shaggy Dog than King Kong.

Why was I worried? Well, the main criticism of adaptions (generally book-to-movie, but also movie-to-new-movie) is that they show no respect for the original. And the director of Pete’s Dragon 2016, David Lowery, committed the ultimate act of disrespect toward the 1977 version: he didn’t even watch it. So far as I understand, he and his writing partner wrote the script for the new movie going off of his memories of seeing the movie multiple times as a 6-year-old. However, reading Lowery’s blog, I saw that he was approaching his version with a large amount of passion.

Let’s talk about The Shaggy Dog and King Kong for a moment. Both are franchises I’m slightly obsessed with, but one is the worst remake I have ever seen in my life, and the other is the best. (For clarification, I’m talking about the 2005 King Kong, not the 1976 King Kong, which was solidly mediocre and which I will only rewatch if I’m marathoning all the Kong movies.)

At first glance, the difference between them seems to be that The Shaggy Dog couldn’t care less about its source material, while King Kong was obsessed with the original to a fault, almost breaking the fourth wall to acknowledge the 1933 version. (When trying to think of actresses to be a last-minute replacement for their lead who dropped out, movie director Carl Denham–who is in the year 1933–contemplates asking “Fay,” but she’s doing a picture for “Cooper” with RKO. In 1933, RKO produced King Kong, directed by Merian Cooper and starring Fay Wray. In case moviegoers missed the reference, the soundtrack plays the original Kong theme at this moment.)

Listening to the director’s commentary for The Shaggy Dog, on the other hand, it’s hard to avoid the impression that the director made the movie just for the paycheck. It takes elements from the original Shaggy Dog and its sequel The Shaggy D.A. (actually, the remake borrows more from D.A. than Dog) and puts them in a blender with some generic spend-more-time-with-your-kids family values, genetic engineering, fake science, and a thin, pre-Iron Man Robert Downey, Jr. to get an unrecognizable concoction that stinks more than the time I tried putting paper in an actual blender. (I got a weird green pulp that really stank badly.)

The main reason the King Kong remake worked so well, though, is that it tried to fix the problems of the original. Revered as the original is, the 1933 Kong really only makes sense if you’re not thinking too hard about it. Some things that were problematic with the original:
-The special effects look like they were made in the 1930s
-Ann Darrow does nothing but scream around Kong
-Carl Denham gets an actress so that his movie can have “romance,” but has no male lead. Or any other actors, in fact.
-In fact, Denham’s entire plan to make a movie seems to be showing up on an island no one ever heard of and hope that the mythical god Kong is real and filmable
-Once actually meeting Kong, Denham abandons his plan to actually make a movie
-Ann Darrow and Jack Driscoll fall in love for no reason (to be fair, this is still a problem in the remake)
-It’s never explained how they get Kong back to New York (to be fair, I don’t think this is addressed in the remake either)
-The natives are stereotypical and literally wear coconut bras
-The natives keep Kong out with a Kong-sized door.
-The movie isn’t 3 hours long (okay, this isn’t really a problem, but Peter Jackson apparently thought it was)

The remake retells the original, but tries to give more sense to the story–which is why it’s so good, in my opinion.

The Shaggy Dog attempted to fix problems with the original, too–but the reason that remake failed is that its solutions were worse than the original problems!
-The original movies had a talking dog. The remake attempts to rectify this problem by giving CONSTANT VOICE-OVER NARRATION OF TIM ALLEN-AS-A-DOG THOUGHTS (including Tim Allen saying “To infinity and beyond!”)
-The original movies had cheesy dog-transformation special effects. The remake has basically no transformation special effects.
-The original movies used a spell on a magic ring to turn the protagonist into a dog. The remake uses “science.” Because it makes sense that if a centuries-old dog who’s been experimented on bites you, dog-shaped genes will pull apart your red blood cells and turn you into a clone of the dog whenever your heart rate increases.

There is one serendipitous improvement on the original, owing solely to the fact that the remake was made after the 1990s: the remake gets to use “Who Let the Dogs Out?” in the soundtrack.

But what WOULD be the best way to improve on the original movies? Well–probably a complete reimagining, just a different kind of reimagining. If I were to attempt to remake The Shaggy Dog, in fact, I would probably return to the book that was ostensibly the inspiration for The Shaggy Dog, The Hound of Florence by Felix Salten, which was out of print from the 1930s to just a few years ago. Instead of trying to be weakly comedic like the movies, the book delves more into the emotional implications of turning into a dog every other night. It’s an angsty story about an orphaned teenager whose only hope of living a fulfilled life is to make it to the artistic haven of Florence, Italy, where he can receive training. His only hope is to be transformed into Cambyses, the dog of the Archduke who is going to said city. The transformation gets him to Florence, but it’s a double-edged sword, as he literally disappears into thin air mid-kiss, reappearing as a dog miles away, and has to explain away his constant disappearing.

Which brings me to Pete’s Dragon. Like the original Shaggy Dog movies, every fault about the original film is completely integrated into what it fundamentally IS: a Disney musical from the 1970s meant to be a sort of spiritual successor to Mary Poppins. To remake Pete’s Dragon as a musical with the same tone as the original wouldn’t jive with using realistic CGI animation. So what Lowery did what was probably the smartest course of action: keeping the core of the story (boy lives in woods with dragon until being found by kindly woman and her father, integrates into their family, says goodbye to dragon) but surrounding that core with completely new elements more true to his unique tone.

Ultimately, successful remakes are about pretending that a movie that already came out is still in development. Sometimes, there’s nothing that can be done to improve a movie, which is why 2001: a Space Odyssey will (hopefully) never be remade. When remaking something like King Kong, the original was so successful that the 2005 remake basically just tweaked a lot of small story points and used modern special effects. Pete’s Dragon was a movie that needed a near-complete overhaul, and it seems that David Lowery has, in fact, made an even better movie.

Posted in movies, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Every book and movie I’m taking to college (in no particular order)

Books

  • The Bible
  • Paradise Lost
  • Pygmalion
  • Jane Eyre
  • Frankenstein
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Doctor Faustus
  • Treasure Island
  • Macbeth
  • That Was Then, This Is Now
  • Lord of the Rings
  • McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
  • The Elevator Family
  • Disgraced
  • The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
  • The Invisible Gorilla
  • The Four Loves
  • Love Your God with All Your Mind: the Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul
  • Evil Plans: Having Fun on the Road to World Domination
  • Me, Myself, & Bob: a True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables
  • Made to Stick
  • The Animator’s Survival Kit
  • Suits 2013

Movies

  • 2001: a Space Odyssey
  • Superman Returns
  • King Kong (2005)
  • Les Quatre Cents Coups
  • Donnie Darko
  • Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey
  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)
  • Bride of Frankenstein
  • My Fair Lady
  • King Kong (1933)
  • Son of Kong
  • The Reichenbach Fall
  • The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: a VeggieTales Movie
  • Courageous/Facing the Giants/Fireproof 3-pack
  • Toy Story 3
  • Freaky Friday (1976)
  • Rashomon
  • Pete’s Dragon
  • The Time Machine (1960)
  • The Time Machine (2002)
  • The Incredible Mr. Limpet
  • The Shaggy Dog / The Shaggy D.A. 2-pack
  • Horton Hears a Who! (1970)
  • Amadeus
  • The Return of Professor Phineas T. Boggs to the Days of David and the Giant
  • Boggs III: Hero
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Brief Explanation of the Banner

In case you’re wondering what the images that comprise my header image areas follows:
-On the left is a cartoon self-portrait
-Next to me is ZACH-E, my pet robot who I’ve made a few YouTube videos with
-The M is the logo for my college, Millersville University
-There is a picture I drew in chalk pastel for an art class, depicting my 8th grade self pulling a lever on a gigantic time machine
-Next to the time machine is a pen drawing I made in the same class depicting my 9th grade Chemistry teacher as a bird-man hybrid. I still haven’t shown him the picture.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hello world. I wrote you a song.

Hello, world! (That’s supposed to be kind of an in-joke, since I’m a computer science major and “Hello world” is the supposedly the first thing one writes when working with a new language.)

I’m starting college, which means that this post has a 90% chance of being the second-to-last post on this blog. (The last post, of course, will come 3 months later and will be a heartfelt apology for not updating in forever.) It also means that I’m saying goodbye to many friends I’ve made over the past three years and hopefully making a lot of new friends.

So, as more than 2 months ago now, I was getting ready to give a graduation speech in front of thousands of people and be handed a glossy diploma case, I wrote a little song about the pain of moving on in life and the strange comfort that comes from knowing thousands of others are going through the same experience.

It’s not a particularly good song, but I like it. I hope you do too.

 

(The picture, in case you’re curious, is of me giving my speech.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment