March 26, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: Non-Serious Serious Non-fiction

March 11, 2008 New York Times Top 5 at a Glance

1. LOSING IT, by Valerie Bertinelli ("Funny and candid...")
2. BEAUTIFUL BOY, by David Sheff ("...honest, hopeful...")
3. STORI TELLING, by Tori Spelling with Hilary Liftin ("...frankness and humor...")
4. IN DEFENSE OF FOOD, by Michael Pollan ("Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.")
5. LIBERAL FASCISM, by Jonah Goldberg ("...shocking and hilarious.")

And there you have it -- if you're going to write serious non-fiction, you have to be funny.

Most of my own published non-fiction uses humor to make a point -- in fact, two of my three major sales to Stan Schmidt at ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION AND FACT are fictionalized, funny takes on serious problems: Americans ignoring "minor" laws like speed limits and the increasing number of "consumer warnings". My book, SIMPLE SCIENCE SERMONS FOR BIG AND LITTLE KIDS has been available now for a decade and uses wry commentary melded with scientific facts to bring Christian ideas into clearer light.

How do you do funny? There's a number of ways, but the most common is to say something connected to your subject -- but on an unexpected tangent. Most jokes follow this pattern. Another way is to "do" something visually unexpected. Carol Burnette, Seinfeld, Reba and the entire Saturday Night Live crew are all masters at this; Lucille Ball was undisputed Empress for the ridiculous images she set up -- you can do that in print as well, but nothing is quite as funny as a pie-in-the-face or a someone slipping on a banana peel.

So: if you want to write serious, be funny!

March 11, 2008

STAR WARS vs STAR TREK: Fomenting Jihad in the Republic

Far, far away from promoting Zen Buddhist ideals of peace and tolerance, the world of Star Wars foments fundamentalist jihad.

From the all-powerful dominance of the Jedi Knights of the Old Republic (and their looming cathedral and sanctimonius pronouncements) to Grand Moff Tarkin’s proclamation that “The last vestiges of the old Republic have been swept away”, George Lucas sets the stage for a sort of “Force-powered” religious jihad or struggle. There is no tolerance in either the republic or the Empire. There is even less difference between the atrocities committed by the fictional crusaders of Lucas’ universe (the destruction of Alderaan and the attempted extermination of the Endorians) and the atrocities leveled at historical crusaders in the real world. This world of Star Wars is set up to perpetuate the idea that whatever religion has the most light sabers, wins.

This religious fundamentalism may in fact go hand-in-hand with Lucas’ worldview regarding government: “But there's probably no better form of government than a good despot."-- George Lucas (New York Times interview, March 1999)

Contrast this to the religions of Roddenberry’s United Federation of Planets in Star Trek. Humans have no overt religion and despite the series creator’s atheism, the sense that comes across is that Human religions have learned to get along with each other. Other aliens have religions as well: Bajor’s Prophets; the Klingon’s remarkably “Catholic” faith; Vulcan mysticism; American capitalism taken only to a bit more of an extreme on Ferenginar; even Cardassia’s family-worship – yet none of these appear to have sects within themselves and there is no one “force” or Council enforcing the observance of particular forms. While there may still be some religious strife, it appears to be minor. No one on Star Trek has attempted to strangle anyone else using the dark side of anything.

So why is Star Wars still more popular than Star Trek? Why do people still go out at Halloween dressed as Wookies and Obi Wan Kenobi rather than as Trill or Admiral Cartwright? Is it a failing that Lucas tapped into – that we prefer despots to democracy? Or is it a result of the Star Wars meme (As defined by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976): "a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation." "Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. ...” ) that has infected the US as a result of millions of men, women and children watching the movies over and over and over…