Opinion: Objectionable Elements and the Exploration of New Genres by Matt Gardenghi

This isn’t a book review in the traditional sense, mostly because I am not certain I want to tell people what I just read. We’ll get back to that. What I did do was this: I explored two genres that I have traditionally frowned upon and was surprised at my findings.

First, was anime. Now, anime is a Japanese style of cartoon (manga == comic book; anime == cartoon). I have had a negative approach to anime because those I knew who liked it also tended toward more adult materials. Turns out that in the Oriental societies, anime is considered to be an art form equal with live action cinematography. Anime runs the gamut from children’s shows to adult action flicks and everything else. Now one problem with anime in the US is that it is seems to be closely linked to pornography. I don’t recommend performing Google searches on anime as you will often be just one or two clicks away from seriously objectionable content. If you read (and can search in) Japanese then your search will be less problematic.

So, a few weeks back, I came in contact with anime over the course of daily life and as usual my gut reaction was to condemn it. Then I recalled a friend who had told me about how anime in Japan is no different then Disney (or Pixar) films in the US. So I decided I should get to know the genre a bit better before writing it off. moreover, it turns out that Disney has released several films by Hayao Miyazaki. These films have been re-dubbed with experienced US actors that include the famed Patrick Stewart.

Turns out my friend was right. I’ll probably not go digging up anime because its tough to find good stuff in the US, but I learned that I shouldn’t discount it as a style or genre. What I watched was excellent material with good (albeit different due to Eastern perspectives) stories.

Result: if you have the opportunity to watch Miyazaki movies like Castle In The Sky or Porco Rosso, take the chance and watch them to broaden your horizons. Another good anime is Steamboy which has an interesting discussion about the role of science within society.

Next I read Marvin Olasky’s article in a recent World Magazine. He spoke highly of another genre that I typically disdained: graphic novels. Now if you are like me, you look at a graphic novel and see pictures instead of words. Obviously it is inferior to real novels, right? Or maybe not so much. Since I was trying out new genres, I went to the library and requested the only one I knew. I was both surprised, impressed and saddened.

Let’s start with the good: the story was well written and told primarily through pictures. It amazed me that quite a few of the first ten pages had few words. Of those words, most were in Arabic. Yet intriguingly, I knew exactly what was going on as if the author had spent pages detailing the scenes. This was surprising. The skill used to tell the story was fantastic.

The depth of the author’s story and literary knowledge also surprised and impressed me. I wouldn’t have expected an author with such knowledge and skill to be writing extended comic books. Maybe there’s something to these….

One thought before I reach the bad. I do not see graphic novels being a good substitute for books because they lack words. That might sound odd, but actual words on a page can boost spelling, grammar skills and more accurately direct your thinking than a picture. In some ways, they complement each other, or can do so if both are well written stories.

The bad: graphic images and content littered several sections of the book. This was a great disappointment not just because the material was offensive, but because there was so much talent wasted here. I wish I could recommend the book, but I can’t and won’t.

This lead me to a decision: do I continue reading this one book despite its obvious problems just so I could explore a new genre, do I just write off the genre due to the content of this book (and quit reading it), or do I wait until a more promising sample manages to cross my path? My decision was to keep reading, though I am not sure if I should have.

What do you do when you reach objectionable material? Some material in a book can be ignored. I can turn a page or ignore some element. (Mind you I try not to make it a habit to have to deal with such issues, and these are typically only a problem in novels.) With a movie, I would probably and usually shut it off. With a graphic novel, a picture is worth a thousand words. You can skip a page, but you still saw several thousand words….

Honestly, I continued partially because I wanted to read the story and partially because I wanted to learn more about the genre. Now, I’m not sure if either reason was a legitimate reason.

What do you do when presented with objectionable elements?


Men In Black by Mark R. Levin

Men In Black

No, not the movie. This is a book about the supreme court and its destruction of the American Representative Democracy. One reads 1776 with its uplifting view of American governance and then picks up Levin’s Men In Black and finds a dark story of an oligarchy destroying American self-governance.

There aren’t many books that can persuade me to change my mind with regards to elections, but this one did the unthinkable. I will hold my nose and vote Republican for one reason: supreme court nominations. I had more or less decided to break with the Republican party and vote independent seeing as McCain isn’t much different than Obama in my opinion. I was hoping for Governor Huckabee myself. I had the opportunity to meet several of the candidates and Huckabee was the most impressive by far. But I digress….

Look, as a Christian the debate for me has been straightforward: vote my conscience and select someone without a chance at winning or select the moderate Republican and block the Democrats. Personally, given McCain’s moderate approach and close friendship with the extreme left wing, I had decided to vote against him. But, can I afford to let Obama seat a liberal on the bench? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!

You see, Levin lays out on page after page how the supreme court has violated their mandate, accrued unchecked power, and legislated from the bench. Time after time (particularly in the last 60 years or so), the court has made decisions and then sought out justifications for their decisions. Worse, it hasn’t all been cloak and dagger; this has been done in the open, people just haven’t paid much attention. From supporting slavery to reverse discrimination (affirmative action), from banning God in schools to overturning sodomy laws, from legalizing abortion to interfering with the electoral process, the supreme court has systematically removed its oversight, increased its power and created “rights” not found in the constitution in an effort to push it’s agenda.

This book is a real eye-opener. It opened my eyes to the need to keep the court on its current track of conservatism. After all that darkness and the terrible situation painted by Mark Levin, what can be done? The court has systematically overruled any attempts to control it. The democrats in Congress have been working with groups the NAACP, NOW, and others to control court appointments at all levels and to block any judge who is a strict constitutionalist. (Surprisingly, no one seems to care or know! Of course this is the only way the left has been able to work: through the courts they win even as they have failed at the ballot box.)

Levin argues briefly in a short last chapter for term limits on all judges with unlimited reappointment. This would allow the people to easily evaluate a judge’s performance while keeping the judge from having to “politic” for their job. In any event, as long as no changes are made to the current system, I believe that I have little choice but to support a candidate that will be more likely to nominate conservative justices. The current conservative bent may be the only reason the right to bear arms was upheld recently.

You must vote your conscience this Fall, but please read this book and factor this important factor into your decision.

Remember Me by Mary Higgins Clark

Remember Me

In a story reminiscent of Rebecca (due to the focus on Menley’s feelings, emotions and marital struggles), Clark leads on from one suspenseful chapter to the next. This is great summer reading.

The leading lady, Menley Nichols, may or may not be chasing ghosts of the distant past, but she is certainly chasing the ghosts of her past. Just a few years prior to this story, a tragic accident caused the death of her firstborn son Bobby. Menley was driving and never saw the train.

Now, with a baby girl named Hannah, Menley struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder. In an effort to boost her recovery, Menley, her husband Adam and baby Hannah decide to vacation in Remember House on Cape Cod. What should be a relaxing vacation turns into a nightmare on the coast. Of course, no one mentioned to the ill Menley that the house was haunted by its first mistress….

The story revolves around Menley’s attempts to prove her independence, her ability to care for Hannah all the while writing a children’s novel set in the 1600’s. This survey into the past brings to light mysteries about Remember House that had been hidden for centuries. Meanwhile, Adam, a high profile NY defense attorney is defending a local Cape Cod resident who has been fingered for his wealthy wife’s accidental drowning death. Mix in a few more subplots, throw in a dash of ghosts and out comes a mystery worthy of Mary Higgins Clark. In other words, it’s worth reading.

There are a couple of downsides. The first is profanity. While Clark never uses a lot of profanity, there is always some. Secondly, Clark breaks something that I thought was an unbreakable rule: the omniscient narrator lies. Every character, even when alone, decries their innocence / blamelessness / victimhood etc…. In her books, On the Street Where You Live and Nighttime is My Time, whenever she cuts to a scene with the evil character alone, you know what the evil character thinks, but not who they are. In Remember Me though, one never reads a confession from the bad guy. Therefore, it is never clear whether there is a bad guy or even if a crime has been committed. Other than wondering whether the book is about a murder already committed, a murder that might be, whether Menley is crazy (or maybe she is being manipulated out of the picture), or maybe its something else entirely, the book is good.

No, I won’t spoil the ending and tell you what the book is about. If you must know anything, the book is about memories and remembering your past. Menley needs healing in dealing with her past. Others have pasts that they want to conceal. One character has Alzheimer’s disease and she has the linchpin to the whole plot.

Enjoy this summer mystery. Just preferably not on the Cape in August. 😀

Skeleton Key, by Anthony Horowitz

Skeleton Key

Book three of the Alex Rider series. Alex Rider is British, and really, he shines in England. Something about the interactions across the pond seem to flow naturally and be so lifelike I can see the book unfolding in my head. Once you add Americans into the picture, its another story. Or maybe just less of a movie-in-book-form than previous volumes; either way, the Americans stand out like cardboard cut outs on a live action set. Thankfully, that is rectified when our main bad guy shows up (he and the main minions are Russian), and things kick into high gear for another rousing adventure.

PLOT: revolves around Alex getting roped into another mission, this one in America, involving a Russian nuclear nutcase. Instead of the British spy agency backing him all the way, he has to work with two American CIA agents (who aren’t supposed to tell the kid anything), and as usual, nobody knows what they’re actually after, even Alex. Alex, one female agent, and one male agent are soon in Florida, trying to get into the mansion of an impressively protective former Soviet general. His house consumes an entire island, and only a deep underwater cave is left unguarded…

POSITIVE: The world of spies is murky and uncertain in this series (as in real life), and Alex, while clearly brilliant, doesn’t know anything more than the agents he’s assigned with. As in, yay for adult competence! He saves everyone, but only once he’s willing to admit that he doesn’t know very much and so approaches each new thing with caution and humility. The story line also flows very naturally, making the transition from rainy London to the swamps of Florida and eventually the Russian Arctic Circle very natural. One of my pet peeves is “crazy” bad guys who are really just deluded idiots; this one is genuinely crazy, so he’s creepy, but he acts like you’d expect a lunatic to act, with unexpected logic, especially regarding his treatment of Alex. And the supporting minions are developed well enough that they supplement the performance, by treating his insanity as normal. And yes, that will only make sense once you’ve read the book. 🙂 In short, the author has figured out what makes a good horror story, and applied the principles to his spy tale. He also discusses, subtly, several adult themes of women in the workforce, pride going before a fall, nuclear ethics, manipulation of the media, and security systems and their effectiveness being based on the people running them. These are positive because as an adult I enjoyed finding something to think about over the course of the book, and they are subtle enough that a kid could miss them entirely.

NEGATIVE: This is the darkest book in the series, in my opinion. Usually, authors forget to make the minions behave as if they’ve been minions for a long time, and the illusion of craziness is broken. Horowitz does a good job here of making it very real and therefore very scary. And something like seven different horrific ways to die are presented. Two bad words; many action scenes including bad guy sends minions to their death among the alligators, several life-threatening scenes where a young person is in danger of being electrocuted, eaten alive by sharks, chomped on my mechanical teeth, blown up, nuclear poisoning, ripped in pieces, etc –not graphic, and thereby more terrifying; our hero is unkind to a deformed minion (who wants him chopped in pieces); one stereotypical macho American guy who does stupidly risky things; and several characters consume alcohol liberally and one gets raving drunk.

OVERVIEW: four stars, because as a kids book it’s really rather more mature than it should be, with regard to the creepiness and violence levels. Otherwise, though, it’s very well crafted and though provoking.