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Tag Archive: The Memory Palace


By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

As I drive back and forth to visit my parents in Arizona, I use those long solitary times in the car to listen to podcasts. “WNYC’s Radiolab,” “the memory palace,” “Thrilling Adventure Hour,” “A History of the World in 100 Objects,” “Doug Loves Movies” and “The Sports Poscast” all satisfy different moods and help make the drive a chance for laughs, learning and great stories.  On my past visit, I queued up the two-hour plus “Poscast” from 3/14/2012 featuring Joe Posnanski and Michael Schur as I drove across the Mojave Desert.  The first half concentrated on my favorite sport, baseball, and discussions and predictions regarding the upcoming season.  (Go Cardinals).  The second half concerned something that I think all readers of borg.com can get behind – a draft of the characters of Star Wars.  (Star Wars was defined as Episode IV through Episode VI – any other movies never had existed.  That is the correct view).

So, as much as I loved the baseball discussion (go Cardinals, again) this draft excited me.  My one addition to the draft (everyone’s a critic) – I would have drafted Biggs.  The idea of an infinite universe and somehow two friends from Tatooine end up flying X-wings together is better than just running into someone you know on the streets of Chicago or in a café in Paris (though both of those are pretty awesome).  It’s just my idea of magic and what I read into the trilogy, though all of their picks made perfect sense.  I still am up in the air about who would have won – each team had two Jedis, each team had people good with blasters and the last pick, though one was much more powerful, one was a lot more lucky.  As far as favorites go though, I have to side with Schur’s draft.  He had the first pick and of course he took Han Solo and the ensuing discussion got me to thinking.  That moment they cite as the favorite Han moment, that moment that we all want for ourselves, the moment where chills run through me, my hair stands on end and my eyes well up is the Millennium Falcon shooting a TIE Fighter out of space, disrupting Darth Vader’s shot on Luke’s X-wing, and Han exclaiming, “You’re all clear kid, now let’s blow this thing and go home.”

The rogue becomes a hero.  He is in it for more than the money, he has a heart.  He cares enough to love something.  We all want to be that person.  In continuing to think about that, it ran up against my thoughts of Community as I finally got to see a panel for the show at WonderCon the previous Sunday.  Then, I finally had my epiphany on my love of this show and other well crafted ones like Schur’s own Parks and Recreation.

We all love Star Wars.  It’s a great story.  However, the characters are archetypes and therefore, we can vicariously insert ourselves into them and become the hero.  We can “play” Han and Luke and Leia as kids because the simple traits that they have don’t intrude on our true personalities.  We all want to be heroes.  We all want to find that cause to champion.  We will defend ourselves.  We will defend our friends.  We will save the girl or the boy with our own bravery and pluck.

On the other hand, you look at a Jeff Winger or a Leslie Knope and you run into something different and that is specifics.  Winger is a lawyer.  He cheated his way into becoming a lawyer and once he was found out, he had to return to community college to earn his degree.  He knows how to talk himself out of about any situation and can convince about anyone to do anything, but he’s learning that isn’t always a good thing.  He’s trying to coast through college because he doesn’t know how to work hard and study.  His Halloween costumes are just excuses to dress well and show off his good looks.  He once wet himself playing foosball.  He’s an agnostic.  He interferes with others’ relationships.  He stinks at pottery and it can infuriate him.

We know Leslie is a tireless worker in the Parks Department.  We know her mother intimidates her, but that she looks up to her success in city government.  Her mom can be a rival for the affection of a man like Ben Wyatt – and she will stand up to her to fight for him.  She will prepare 72 hours of reading for her best friend Ann Perkins to do in 12 hours for an interview Ann never wanted.  She’ll risk her career for love, but she won’t give up either because she wants it all.  She’ll steal artwork to protect it from censors.

We can’t project ourselves onto these people – they’re too different.  There may be some similarities, but I doubt there is a real Leslie Knope or Jeff Winger or Britta Perry or Ron Swanson or Abed Nadir.  However, because they are so likable, we can project ourselves into Greendale or into Pawnee, Indiana because we want to hang out with them for the 22 minutes every week.  Then I have to shift to first person as my adventures of driving an hour to WonderCon after waking up at 5 am to volunteer at the L.A. Marathon to go and sit in a room for two hours watching the two previous panels just to be sure I can get an early viewing of “Digital Exploration of Interior Design” and see my first Community panel after two years of Comic-Con disappointment due to not getting to the line in time, because my experience is more specific.  (It also deserves more than one, long, rambling sentence).

Following the episode, Gillian Jacobs, Yvette Nicole Brown, Chris McKenna, Ken Jeong, Dan Harmon and Steve Basilone assembled at the panel table in front of the huge crowd.  We found out that in the 18-34 demographic Community beat American Idol, which got a huge cheer.  Then Yvette prefaced her comments by saying that “Dan Harmon is broken” and thanked the audience for their support, because through all of the tributes, they can feel that love for the show.  The best line was, “The fact that you guys walked away from your computers and watched us live and got us those numbers, it’s magic.”  Even though I’ve seen this week’s show, I’ll be watching again live, though no one will count it.  If you have a Nielsen box, please do the same.

Some of my other favorite moments of the panel:

While discussing the episode “Remedial Chaos Theory” that the moderator attributed to Chris McKenna, he said, “We have a writing staff.  Dan came in and vomited up a bunch of ideas for it and we picked through the vomit.”

Gillian mentioned going to Comic-Con last year and a few people whooped, while Dan jumped in and said, “You guys like comic books?”

Steve describes the episode “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” as “retardedly awesome” and the moderator steps in and asks, “Are there any retardedly awesome people in the audience?”  (As an aside, I love How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Scrooged as my favorite holiday entertainments, but this year, I just watched “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.”  It’s easily in the top 3 of Christmas for me now).

The interplay between Yvette and Dan when Yvette started talking about Dan’s skills with rap flow and lyrics and Dan’s humility deflecting it to a voicemail from Chevy Chase that says he won’t live past 57.  Most of it is Dan going in to detail and Yvette repeatedly saying, “Harmon.”

The character of Britta was just a list of stuff that the writers (and Dan) considered as things they found attractive in a woman.  Then a female writer, Hilary Winston then said that she didn’t like Britta and gave Dan the reasons.  Dan then said, “Instead of changing the character, I thought, ok so that’s who Britta is.  She’s the woman that women don’t like.”

Dan again on Britta and other female characters, “What creates a good female character is a guy forgetting that it’s a female character.”  Then Yvette added, “It works for diversity as well.”  Then Yvette and Dan went into another dialogue, as Dan got a little humorously offensive about writing about race and talked about going to RaceCon.

Re-listening to the panel, it didn’t strike me then because I had no clue who it was, but I have to say that Gillian is pretty darn correct in the fact that she can resemble the later-in-life Michael Jackson that she plays in “Contemporary Impressionists.”

Just re-reading this, the differences between a fan of Community or Parks and Recreation and a fan of Star Wars (heck, they’re probably the same people a lot of the times) are not that great.  The characters have more depth in the TV show because they have over 20 hours to develop over three seasons instead of six hours over three movies.  Fans get crazy excited about all three.  I just want to figure out what makes a show like Community so special to me and that makes me spend the past few days watching my DVDs of seasons 1 and 2.  I thought the idea that I wouldn’t play a sitcom out with friends when I was a kid might be that germ of understanding because of the character depth.  Then again, if I were ten again, maybe I would “play” Community.  I get to be Troy.

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Comic-Con Panel:  Wild Cards or Recommendations from Friends

By Jason McClain (@jtorreyMcClain)

I know what I like and I think most people do as well.  We often don’t go looking for things that are going to go against that grain and instead look for things that reinforce our beliefs.  For example, people labeled with the generalization of “liberals” generally will not watch Fox News and conversely those labeled as “conservatives” will generally not watch Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow.  Why watch something that will just anger you or go against your beliefs that you have worked your whole life to create?[i]

Politics is an easy example as people tend to avoid the other side.  However, it is just as easy to see in popular culture[ii] or in comics.[iii]

We find what we like and we go with it.  How do we find what we like though?  Sometimes it is at home (my father brought home copies of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy for our bookshelf and I just started to read them) or school (isn’t that how we all find The Great Gatsby?) or a bookstore (I found The Perks of Being a Wallflower by just sitting on the floor in a Barnes and Noble and picking a book at basically random from where I sat).

Oftentimes it is because of a recommendation of a friend.  Because a friend from college, Jason Teiken[iv], lent me Wild Cards I ended up going to the George R.R. Martin hosted panel[v] at Comic-Con this year. It has been probably 20 years since I read those books, but because I loved the stories of Aces and Jokers within each novel’s prose, I knew that sitting in a panel would be a great way to think back to that experience and maybe reopen it in the future.

However, at the time I first read the Wild Card books, I remember thinking, why would I want to read about superheroes in a book and not a comic?  Once I started reading, I remember thinking who in the hell is this guy Fortunato? Powers from tantric sex and building up a giant orgasm?  What the #$%?  Is this pornography?  Daredevil wouldn’t do this.  Oh God, can the villains out there sexually take advantage of Daredevil?  Won’t someone think of Matt Murdock?[vi]

Years later in graduate school, having drifted away from comics, I found them again thanks to “Kingdom Come”, a recommendation from a fellow student, Matt Massey, and it still is my favorite mini-series/graphic novel of all time. Moving around the country tends to prohibit you from accumulating things beyond what can fit in your car, comics included, and if you aren’t going to be buying comics, there isn’t a point to going to a comic book store to keep up with what is out there.

Coming back to comics at several different points always leads to new things. Once I had a more stable existence, a friend who worked in a comic shop[vii] turned me onto Brian Michael Bendis and J. Michael Straczynski.  My good friend, the editor of this site C.J. Bunce, turned me onto the Neal Adams/Denny O’Neil Hard-Traveling Heroes run of Green Lantern and Green Arrow which led to a great panel in the 2010 Con about Batman becoming a nocturnal hero instead of the campy cartoon of the 60s.  I loved listening to them talk about the behind the scenes moments that led to how we view Batman today.

This doesn’t just lend itself to comics either. Books (my friend David Popham recommended On Writing by Stephen King and it was a great read that I’ve recommended to other writers and my friend Jon Dunkle keeps a blog of book reviews at Rain of Error that I will go to when I hit a library or go crazy on Amazon and he led me to Aimee Bender’s “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake”), movies (my friend Steve Sides recommended the wonderful Lars and the Real Girl and kept reminding me to watch until I saw it and loved it), podcasts (I thank Marcus Janzow for my exposure to the not-updated-enough, “The Memory Palace,”) and music (comps from my friend Scott Eggimann led me to “The Weakerthans”) have all entered my consciousness through friends.

Now, I feel I can recommend these items to people everywhere. Then I suppose they’ll recommend and so forth. I suppose I’ve really just outlined the inner workings of the ever-elusive word of mouth marketing in pieces of art that relate to me. However, it’s still my friends that end up giving me some of the best recommendations that I’ll ever have and those help to shape my tastes. When you start to think about it, isn’t that what friends are for on the larger levels as well?

So, thanks to friends I still see and friends that I don’t. I thank you for the time you take to let me know about the things you love and sharing them with me. No matter if it is forgotten how those loves got to me in the first place, they are there because of a good friend and that won’t be forgotten.

[i] Assuming people work for their beliefs because some might just take some beliefs and be happy not having to worry about working for them. It’s the whole division of labor thing.

[ii] If a friend recommends to you that you really need to give Justin Bieber a listen because you don’t understand the beauty in his music, would you be more likely to listen to the Biebs or refuse to listen to your friend talk about music?  What about Ke$ha?  Phish?  Lady Gaga? Motley Crue?  AC/DC?  Prince?  Oasis?  Nickelback?  Is there a band that would cause you to kick your friend to the curb?

[iii] I won’t say more than “Marvel or DC?”

[iv] He also introduced me to Twin Peaks and I’m enjoying watching those on Netflix streaming right now.

[v] The panel had all the different contributing authors talking about favorite characters and possible future routes of the series and it was pretty interesting to just reminisce. However, the people that were just waiting for the next panel with Nathan Fillion gained an interest in the series just from listening to the authors. That was probably the most intriguing part of the hour. I mean, isn’t Comic-Con just a big gathering of “friends” sharing their different loves of fantasy/sci-fi/comics/pop-culture with one another?  I would go on, but any pronoun use in this sentence with the verb “share” would just lead to an unintended double-entendre.

[vi] Yes, that is an overreaction on behalf of Matt Murdock because he can take care of himself.  Plus, the language was probably different from a generally naïve Midwestern undergraduate but the idea of reading about tantric sex, delaying orgasms or even mentioning orgasms felt weird within what I knew about comics. I think at that point I had yet to put together the meaning of the band name “Queen,” let alone read about sex in comics period especially when comic heroes are supposed to be saving the world and drinking their milk. Needless to say, I had yet to find Alan Moore. My friend Jason Vivone changed that later.

[vii] Kind of similar to the whole “is a drug dealer a friend” thing as the only times we interacted were in his comic store as he fed my addiction to “Planetary,” “Powers” and “Rising Stars.”