trump-voters

This Presidential race is closer than you might think or hope… “Do’h!” And the reason is: that despite the hatred, bigotry, and sexism of Donald Trump, his voters are NOT all idiots or closet racists. -Don’t get us wrong, some very much are- but support for The Donald goes deeper than that. So we wanted to take a look at Trump’s strongest demographic and what our research unveiled was that they look a lot more familiar than you think, especially if you watch cartoons on Fox. No, not Fox News, just the Fox Network on a Sunday night. Because the ideal Trump voter looks kind of like someone who might live in Springfield, Quahog, or Arlen, Texas.

President of the Hill
Thanks to polls and demographic studies conducted by the Washington Post, ABC News, Nate Silver, and 270towin.com we are able to get a much clearer picture of what a typical Trump supporter looks like, and they are exactly what you might expect. Please know that this is just a statistical average, as we realize that there are others who support The Donald who may not fit one of these categories. However, if you are voting for the Republican nominee it means that you are most likely to be: White, Male, Identify as Conservative, Heterosexual, Between the Ages of 40 and 65, Do Not Have a College Degree, Do Not Live In or Near a Major Metropolitan Area, and Are Making Around the Medium Household Income -AKA Middle-Class.

We know these aren’t exactly shocking statistics, however they are representative of a kind of common American, an Average Joe. It is the kind of representation we see every week on TV, especially in the form of Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, Hank Hill, and hundreds of other animated and non-animated typical TV father types, and that says something. We do not hate these characters, -well, most of the time- but at the very least we see them as well meaning buffoons. Hank Hill, for instance, is a true-blue Texan-American who like trucks, Reagan, and propane. In fact, the main conflict of his story is often that his conservative ideals must cope with the changing landscape of things like immigration, sexuality, and other uncomfortable topics. He doesn’t always handle them right, but we do not see him as the bad guy. He might be a little obtuse, but we know he is well meaning, and that would probably not be an unfair assessment of many Trump voters.

As fun or comforting as it might be to believe that all of Trump’s supporters are toothless raving racists or backward sexists stuck in a idealized 1950’s fantasy, these generalizations don’t help the contentious climate or the progress of our country. Don’t get us wrong, Donald Trump has certainly captured the white supremacists demographic, but we can’t believe that 39% of likely voters are just in it for the cross burning. These cartoon dads are upset over something and simply dismissing their votes as simple fear or protest is too simplistic. It also diminishes the possibly legitimate concerns of two-fifths of America’s voting population. So maybe there is more going on here.

Lost in Springfield
We, here at The NYRD, have lambasted Trump in the past, and proven why he would make an unfit President, but this article is not about The Donald, himself. It is about his voters and why people have chosen to follow him. There are several factors, but if you really look at the statistics the most undeniable conclusion is that a lot of Trump voters are people who feel voiceless. Most of them are low to middle class white men, over the age of 40 who feel as if the country has left them behind. They are the Homer Simpsons of the world, living in some generic Springfield and wondering why their American dream means going from paycheck to paycheck while the Mr. Burns of the world rule over them from a super-villain-like position of power. The irony is that they have basically chosen a “Mr. Burns” to combat the rest of the Mr. Burns out there, but for them the choice does still makes some amount of sense. They believe no one is paying attention to them, and they’re not exactly wrong.

According to survey form the RAND Corporation, likely voters who agreed with the statement: “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does” were 86.5% more likely to be for Trump, and we kind of get it. Listen, we are born and bred New Yorkers, living in a liberal bastion of progress and sewer rats, but if you are Homer Simpson living in a -presumably- Midwestern small town you understand that there are no TV shows or movies that take place where you live. The celebrities, politicians, and wealthy 1% don’t always share your values, and the sources of your media and entertainment come mainly from LA or NY. To rural America, the cities get all the attention and control all the culture. For our part, the coasts export our ideals as if they are universal, but maybe Ned Flanders or other fundamentalist might disagree. Right or wrong, Trump supporters are the ones who feel sandwiched in the middle and lost in the mix. After all, it can be incredibly frustrating when it feels like you aren’t even being heard at all. So without a voice they have seemingly decided to pick the loudest person in the room to speak for them, which is not all bad because they do have some legitimate complaints.

A lot of the small towns around the United States have fallen on hard economical times. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 61% of the total job losses under NAFTA were relatively high paying manufacturing jobs, centered heavily in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and California. In small town ares, like Springfield, if the main source of employment dries up or moves to foreign soil that can be devastating for residents. If Mr. Burns were to close the nuclear power plant a lot of Springfield would be out of a job, and towns like that -with low populations- cannot simply shift to a service-based economy, like what has happened in New York, Chicago, or other big US cities. There is a reason that Trump usually scores the highest in debates when the candidates are talking about trade agreements or economical issues. Those are some of the most important things for those disenfranchised voters. Unfortunately, their justifiable grievance are often lost in the rhetoric of racial tension also spewed by The Donald, not that most of them mind. To them, that tension is also a direct result of some of the other things we have been discussing.

Buttscratcher! Buttscratcher!
Now, let’s be clear we’re not saying they are right, but for a lot of Trump voters their economic troubles tie in with the questions of race and immigration. A lot of the Peter Griffins of the world look at the top 5% of American earners and see that their income has doubled, while minimum wage has barely moved. They can look at Washington and see a place that looks like it is doing everything it can to improve the lives of African Americans in the “inner cities,” but wonder why no one is doing the same for them. After all, it is usually politically savvy to at least talk about how you will improve the “inner cities,” -even if nothing gets done- but some poor rural white communities don’t even get that kind of lip-service. Meanwhile, they also watch as politicians talk about immigrants and refugees coming into the country, and to the person barely making end’s meat for their family, that could mean more workplace competition and a feeling that someone else might be getting something without putting in the same effort that they did. It is the beginning of resentment and misunderstanding, and Donald Trump -for all his many faults- understands how to harness that frustration.

Peter Griffin does not see himself as a racist, after all he has Cleveland as a friend… and that counts… right?… In their mind, even if people like Peter blame Mexicans for certain things or those “other” black people for things they are not going to self-identify as bigots. That is important to understand too, because when people and the media portray Trump supporters as hatred spewing Klan members a lot of them -ironically- feel as if they are being stereotyped, and that turns them off to any thoughtful engagement of the issues. It doesn’t help that Trump often sets up the media as being unfairly out to get him -despite the fact that they have given him at least $2 billion in free advertising and counting. This feeling of persecution only further hardens the resolve of Trump voters and drives them away from active engagement. In a sense, even the most reasonable people can start to become hardened to reasoning when they feel as if everyone from journalists to the Republican leadership is turning them into some ignorant, hillbilly, backwater cartoon parody, which is something movies and TV have done for years. After all, even in Rhode Island, a liberal state, there are still plenty of Peter Griffins and plenty of disenfranchised Trump voters.

Two-Dimensional Voters
And maybe you have noticed that is part of the problem. You see, while discussing the topic of not reducing all likely Trump voters to stereotypes or caricatures, we have done just that. We are comparing them to cartoon dads, like Peter Griffin or Homer Simpson, and though that comparison is wildly clever and comical, it is also a reduction of real people and the issues they care about. So why do we do it? Mostly because it is funny. While we here, at the NYRD, pride ourselves on being inclusive and examining the major topics of the day in thoughtful and complex ways, we have also found that we are not above making generalizations when it comes to making jokes, and Donald Trump and his followers sometimes make that too easy. Remember, that the statistically average supporter of The Donald is also the last demographic that America has agreed is still okay to make fun of: white, middle-aged, middle-class, men. That is why we have the stereotype of the stupid and fat cartoon dad to begin with, and that is also one of the reasons why these voters feel as if they have been pushed to the fringe.

For some, Donald Trump is a flare fired off in a crowded room. He is the loudest and most obnoxious thing they could find to make everyone notice them. Yes, he might be dangerous and others might get hurt, but at least -for them- something might change. Still for others, they may recognize he is crass, abrasive, and more than a bit myopic, but at least he is talking to them. Two-fifths of likely voters will cast a ballot for Donald Trump. So maybe instead of reducing their views as being crazy or racist, we need to do more to understand why they feel the need to vote for an orange misogynistic demagogue, even if he is not someone they would ever leave their daughters alone with. Nothing is going to change if, after this election, we just reduce Trump voters to cartoons and shuffle on with another 4 years as if nothing happened. We love people like Peter Griffin, Homer Simpson, and Hank Hill, but they are stuck in a perpetual state of animation. They and their families don’t even age, and they often have little to no lasting character development. We can’t afford to let so many in our country feel the same way for even another season.

As of the publishing of this article, 854,312 people have “disliked” the first trailer for the new Ghostbusters reboot. In comparison the 2015 Fantastic Four reboot trailer only received 20,223 dislikes, and that was a movie shot in grey tones solely for the enjoyment of the executives at Fox who were only interested in keeping the rights out of Marvel’s hands. We’re not saying that everyone hates the new Ghostbusters solely because the entire cast has “Ghost Traps,” compared to “Proton Guns,” -if you get our meaning- but we cannot deny that there is an element of our Internet culture that seems aggressively obsessed with hating anything that doesn’t discharge positively charged ions while standing up. However, the real question is where does that leave this movie, and what should the rest of us believe? Is it good? Is it bad? is it just another chance for a studio to cash in on 80’s nostalgia? We can’t tell you, because we haven’t seen it yet, but we can at least try to break down some of the arguments in this incredibly disheartening debate.

Slimer? I Don’t Even Know Her…
Let’s start off by saying we are all Ghostbusters fans. We have all seen the movies 2.3 million times. We quote lines daily. We all owned at least one action figure, and one of us may own the box set of the old Saturday Morning Cartoon show. So let’s start with people’s legitimate complaints. The remake of any classic “near-holy” movie franchise is going to raise some ire. In fact, the first trailer even goes out of its way to make allusions to the old movies, as if they were afraid that the Internet forgot they existed. It very much is a big sort of, “Hey remember this thing you love? Here it is again. Give us money.”  The real problem with defending the reboot -which we promise we will eventually try to do- is that from everything we have seen this new movie is designed to be pretty look like a retelling of the original. There are four Ghostbusters, three of which are scientists, and one is a poor black working stiff. In the first trailer we see them in a library, we see Slimer, we see someone get slimed, and we see a trailer goes out of its way to hit every familiar beat we know from the originals. Granted this is only information gathered from the trailer, but it does leave us legitimately wondering if we are going to see anything new this time around. We mean aside from the cast and director, and that has people concerned as well.

You see, some fans are worried because the movie was handed over to Paul Feig and notably Melissa McCarthy. They have both made some good movies and some bad, but if all we are getting is a retold Ghostbusters with the comedy styling of Bridesmaids, there might be a legitimacy to some of the fears out there. Those two things are a questionable mix. After all, the original movie and its sequel were the products of a very specific time in the 80’s and very specific comedic minds. There has always been something off putting about remaking the franchise, mostly because Murray, Ramis, Hudson, and Akryod, were epitomized for a generation with those movies. Their faces are as much the Ghostbusters as Harrison Ford is Han Solo, or Indiana Jones, or the President that one time. Objectively, it is going to be hard to see a movie without them in it. However, -and Michael Bay aside- we are also not saying 80’s nostalgia remakes are all bad. There has been plenty of remakes, reboots, and sequels that sit proudly on our DVD shelves along with their originals, -Well, we don’t really own DVD’s anymore but you get our meaning- but it is a hard formula to replicate.

There is No Dana,… Only Internet Trolls
Let’s be honest, though, the reason this movie has become so divisive is not really because it is a remake of some “holy cow” of our childhoods. It is very definitely because it is a remake of a “free-floating full-body holy cow,” being remade with women. The entire cast is made up of “Gatekeepers,” instead of “Keymasters,” -if you get out meaning, again- and the anti-feminists of the world are hoping mad about it. “Women are just incapable of being funny. What a terrible idea,” “Did this just become a chick flick?” “Feminists ruin the world,” “Shouldn’t they be in the kitchen?” “All-female, I think, would be a bad idea. I don’t think the fans want to see that.” The last quote is from Ernie Hudson, by the way, but put all of this together and you start to see a clearer picture of what is really going on here. This movie is facing a 30-story unstoppable thought-form specter made of anti-feminism and spewing sexism, like some sort of Stay Puft Marshmallow Woman-Hater. This is also not a new problem, but it is one that seems to have become crystallized by this movie.

Over the past decade there has been a movement that has formed -largely because of the Internet- which has been labeled as a Men’s Rights movement. This group of individuals -some of which are not actually men- see the rising equality of women not for what it is, but instead take it as an affront to their own manhood. They see it as the feminizing of our culture, as if raising up women somehow negates their worth. It is the kind of backlash movement that you see with anything. After all, white supremacists don’t go around shouting that they hate black men -well sometimes they do- instead they go around talking about “white pride,” or “preserving the white race,” or “White Lives Matter.” No hate group actually frames their message in hate. They couch it in a subversive pride, as if somehow making another group equal means demeaning their own group. These Men’s Rights activists don’t look at the new Ghostbusters and think, “Hmm… I suppose we can give women this, considering the majority of all other movies -especially in the action/comedy genre- so often cast women as vapid sex objects or MacGuffin-like prizes to be pursued and won by male leads.” No, they look at this very narrow and rare type of gender reversal and somehow feel it is a threat to them and their way of life. They have to focus on this one example so vehemently, because if they expanded their worldview even a little their argument falls apart.

Compare this to the classic movies, where even Dana Barrett a strong and capable woman still ends up being nothing more than Venkman’s love interest and the person the Ghosbusters need to rescue… twice. Janine Melnitz is the secretary who basically throws herself at Egon, only to be comically rebuffed by the otherwise distracted scientist. That is the majority of the women roles in the old Ghostbusters, and many similar 80’s and 90’s movies. Even Marvel -the wildly successful comic company- has never had a female lead, after nearly a decade of movies. The other problem is that the women selected for these roles are not “Hollywood Hot.” They are comedians, -all of which, by the way, are funnier than the majority of the current male cast members of SNL- but even in 2016 women in movies are meant to be eye candy. At least in comparison to men who can look like Jonah Hill or Seth Rogan and still pull in the crowds. There is an undeniable double-standard in Hollywood, and the new Ghostbusters, has knowingly and willingly stepped into it. At the very least, no matter how bad the movie may actually be, that is something worth applauding.

Don’t Cross the Memes
Here is the thing, if anti-feminists want a movie to watch there are literally thousands of them to choose from. We recommend 50 Shades of Grey, mostly because that movie spouts the same sort of abusive, untouchable, masculine power crap that most Men’s Rights activists would find appealing. In comparison, the new Ghostbusters is doing something to help break boundaries, and it is causing us to have this conversation. Those are both good things, and as fans of the Ghostbusters franchise we feel that is actually a pretty worthwhile addition to the history of these movies. Yet, the real problem with this whole containment breach of a conversation is that we may never actually know how bad or good this movie will be. There will be people who will hate it for no reason and others who will love it for the very same “no reasons.” This movie will never be judged based solely on its merits as a movie, and that is a shame.

As we said previously, we have not seen it yet, but we will. Hopefully, we will be able to be fair and objective in our like or dislike of this newest installment in the world of busting ghosts, but we are not always hopeful. After all, to hate it will mean that we are anti-feminists, but to love it may be disingenuous. This peripheral ectoplasam that we are all stepping in does nothing to enhance the conversation of whether or not this will be a good and a bad movie, and really isn’t that what it should really be about in the end? In a world that is truly equal it shouldn’t matter if the lead is a woman or a man or a green blob of free-floating goo. The fans are the ones that have kept this franchise alive for over three decades and that is something special. All the rest is just a bunch of bull… slime, but that’s only one opinion.

“Mankind has always feared what it doesn’t understand,” at least according to Magento, and as much as we want to disagree sometimes the hopeless cynicism of the Master of Magentism just tends to properly illustrate the plight of humanity. In the Marvel universe mutants are feared and hated because of their differences. They are unfairly labeled as different, dangerous, and categorically stereotyped as being menaces to decent society. In that universe, mutants often face harsh discrimination, often finding themselves barred from even the most common of places, like public bathrooms. At least on that point, Cyclops, Jean, Wolverine, and all the X-Men seem to have a lot in common with the transgender population of many US States.

You Homo-Sapiens and Your Laws
The issue currently being discussed around the country is over whether transgender and other people who associate themselves with a gender identity other than their biological gender, can use bathrooms that better fit their identity as opposed to their biological gender. Perhaps, the most notable anti-non-discrimination bathroom law has taken place in North Carolina. In a special session, North Carolina legislators created a bill aimed at specifically barring transgender people from using public bathrooms that did not befit their biological parts. This bill, created in response to an anti-discrimination ordinance put in place by the city of Charlotte, was put up for vote even before some lawmakers had a chance to read it. However, it is worth noting that North Carolina is not alone. Battles over similar bills have taken off across many southern and western states including Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and others. In fairness, many of those bills were ultimately defeated. Meanwhile states like Colorado, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware already have laws that protect the members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination, though not always specifically when it comes to bathroom use.

President Obama added his voice to the argument by issuing a directive to schools for LGBTQ children to be allowed to use bathrooms that matched their gender identity rather than their biological gender. This of course, was countered by a fair share of backlash from more conservative members of the educational community, including 11 States that have now filed a lawsuit against the POTUS. Yet, the laws and legal battles are really just a reflection of something deeper. After all, the bathroom has always been a battleground for societal changes and discrimination. It’s like the Savage Land of social change. Whether it be women, African-Americans, or the differently-abled, bathrooms seem to be the places where our culture and our country go to argue over what it means to be human, and maybe there is something humbling and embarrassing about that. Or maybe it is just because, -to quote our favorite book- “Everyone poops.”

Brother(Sister)hood of Evil Mutants
In the Marvel Universe mutants are literally an offshoot of normal humans. They are the actual “other.” More to the point, an argument can also be made that they are dangerous. Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants certainly demonstrate as much. We mean, c’mon, they even  have the word “evil” in their name. That would be like the if the Westboro Baptist Church called themselves the Westboro Hate Group. It’s a little on the nose. However, transgender people are 100% human and 99% not dangerous -because, unfortunately, every group has some bad eggs.

However, a minuscule percentage should never be used to represent the majority. That is why despite anecdotal evidence, there are no transgender or imposter-gender people sneaking into bathrooms to sexually assault anyone. According to FBI statistics, in 2014 there were about 84,000 reported cases of rapes in the United States. First off… Holy crap people. That is 84,000 too much… Secondly, none were committed by people exploiting gender identities to sneak into bathrooms. 0 reported cases of rape in 2014 in the USA were committed by people of a transgender identity in a bathroom or by people pretending to be of a transgender identity in a bathroom. In comparison, during that same time frame, 2 people were shot… by dogs. Rape culture in America is a huge problem -and a topic for another article- but no serious proposal for preventing rape in the US even comes close to mentioning banning transgender people from bathrooms.

That is why it is absurd to see these “preventative measure” bills cropping in so many states. They are legislation constructed from ignorance and fear. The greatest irony is that many Republican controlled state legislatures are going against their own conservative beliefs to pass sweeping laws to preempt local ordinances that would protect LGBTQ members from using a bathroom that matches their gender identity. The party who is often terrified of government laws infringing on civil liberties -especially when it comes to the right for dogs to bear arms- is using the very tactic they fear to infringe on the civil liberties of others. This is all in despite of the fact that when a person enters a bathroom to sexually harass, sexual assault or rape, it is already illegal. People who commit these crimes are going to do them anyway. It’s not like the perverts, rapists, and pedophiles of the world have been sitting back waiting for non-discrimination bathroom laws. Sexual assault and rape are always illegal, but people using a bathroom that makes them feel safe and accepted should never be.

X-(Wo)Men United
In a way it is often easier to relate to the plight of the X-Men. We know their names and their stories. To anyone who has seen a good or bad X-Men movie over the past decade and half, you know who they are. They are not statistics in a book or nebulous unnamed bogeymen being flaunted by politicians as the “enemy of decency.” That also means we get to understand their struggles and we get a glimpse of the world from their perspective, a perspective of the persecuted and feared. In essence, that is the viewpoint of today’s transgender and cisgender people. Yet, in the real-world we don’t always know there names, or their stories. Sometimes what politicians forget is that those Americans are also their constituency, and are the people who need protecting more than any other hypothetical peeing person.

Maybe that is why biggest irony of this situation, is that it is transgender people whom face the highest threat of being harassed or physically assaulted. In fact, in 2015 the rate of murdered transgender women -especially women of color- climbed at a worrying rate. Transgender people often face discrimination even when not in a bathroom, and trans-women especially often face physical beatings. When it comes to deciding between which bathroom to use, transgender citizens must face the decision between going into the bathroom that fits their gender identity and being yelled at, or going into the bathroom that fits their biological gender and being beaten up. It’s even worse for transgender students. In fact, discrimination like this has led to a increased risk of suicide for transgender people. 46% of trans-men, 42% of trans-women, and even 41% of cross-dressers have attempted suicide according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Gender neutral bathrooms are not entirely a solution either. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. 53% of 6,450 transgender people surveyed have reported being harassed or made to feel unsafe in a gender neutral bathrooms.

We as people and as a country must do better. We cannot be ruled and legislated by fear. Remember, at the end of the day, the X-Men are heroes. They are mutants that fight for a society that discriminates and hates them. The politicians and the voting public of the Marvel Universe can’t always understand that, but our society needs to be more than two-dimensional ink blots on a pulp page. After all, we are all complex individuals with thoughts, hopes, and fears, and that includes transgender people. This issue can be hard for some to understand, in part because there are only around 700,000 transgender people in the USA. In comparison, at its height the Marvel mutant population numbered at more than 33 million worldwide. However, 700,000 people -though only about .03% of the population- still have the right to be protected and feel as safe as everyone else, especially in the bathroom. Transgender people try to be true to themselves, but that struggle can be made much harder when they find themselves made out be mutant villains or a sexual predators.

So, let’s try to remember that public restrooms should be reserved for awkward urinal talk, questionable toilet hygiene, and frustratingly inefficient hand-dryers, but never hate crimes. As Charles Xavier would say, “We have it in us to be better men [women, and cisgender people]”

At it’s heart, Star Wars is a film series about generations of the same family, and in The Force Awakens we get to see a unique dichotomy between the older heroes and the newest generation, but that dichotomy also exists in our own world. Every family has a Vader who complains about Kylo Ren’s long hair or his non-traditional lightsaber. Older generations have been complaining about younger ones since a long time ago on a Mediterranean island far far away when Xenophon and Plato first decried the “moral decay” of youth. So it’s not surprising that the Millennial Generation gets a lot of hate these days, especially on random articles posted by your aunt on Facebook. However, we here at The NYRD pride ourselves on being Millennials, and it strikes us that a lot of the criticism leveled at “these kids today,” is more unreliable than the hyperdrive on a certain Corellian light freighter.

The Boy has No Patience…
The exact years vary by source, but the Millennial Generation is often pinned as being born between 1980 and 2000. Children of the Baby Boomers we were raised in the shadow of Generation X. Millennials are often criticized as Impatient, Lazy, Entitled, Self-Obsessed, Scruffy-Looking Nerf Herders. Though we are going to disagree on most of those points -whose scruffy looking- we can also admit that there is at least some validity in these charges. After all, Kylo Ren is a caricature of certain Millennials, but -like the Ewoks- we are also a product of our environment, and our youth.

Time Magazine declared Millennials as the “Me Me Me Generation,” and they did so partially because a study by the National Institutes of Health found that “narcissistic personality disorder” was almost three times higher  for people in their twenties than for people who are 65 or older. However, what that study failed to mention is that young people are always generally more narcissistic than older people. That is the personality trait you expect in a twenty-year old, and one that fades as we get older. A paper at NIH.gov found that there was actually “no increase in narcissism in college students over the last few decades,” because Anakin and Luke were just as annoying as Kylo Ren when they were young too. Basically, all college students are “entitled little Siths,” and Baby Boomers were the first “Me Generation.”

It may surprise you, however, to find that in 2011 75% of  Millennials donated to charity, 71% actively raised money for a charity, and 57% volunteered their time to a cause or organization, and that is more than any other generation of people did that year. More to the point, this not an anomaly. Millennials actively tend to engage with causes and organizations to try and improve the world, but not in the same ways previous generations did. Political activism on college campuses is down, compared to the Hippies of the 60’s and 70’s, -but then again so is cocaine and LSD- but the American Congress and political system are also seen as broken and corrupt by almost every American, not just Millennials. So, our generation tends to engage world problems more through NGO’s and non-profits rather than through the Democratic or Republican parties. Half of all Millennials are not registered with any major political party, but were integral in the election of President Obama. This newest voting generation is engaged, just in differently. Millennials, as whole, tend to have a more of a global view on things. The Internet has connected the world in previously unthought-of ways, and as s result we tend to trust it more than TV -for better or worse. You see, a lot of the negative press that Millennials receive comes about because we do things that no longer fit traditional carbonite frozen molds.

401K, Why Aren’t You at Your Post?
For example, Stormtroopers originally started out as clones because when you’re looking for a faceless obedient workforce you can’t do much better. Millennials have proven more and more that they are not clones in some grand Galactic Empire, but that does not mean we are lacy. In fact, worker productivity has increased by 37.6% since 1995, even as wages have remained stagnant and unemployment has fluctuated between 5% and 8% over the past decade. Nearly 80% of college students work part-time while attending school, a figure that has steadily risen over the past 25 years, thanks in no small part to absurd tuition costs and a more competitive job market. The charge of “laziness” may come because Millennials have proven to be much different workers than the past generations. We have less desire to dress in suits, and less loyalty to our places of employment. We don’t do well on a time clock, preferring a more fluid job-life balance. We are often the first out the door at quitting time, but we are no less productive, especially if we’re passionate about what we’re doing. The Greatest Generation worked long hours for the good of the company, and Baby Boomers worked long hours to make the overtime money. Millennials, on the other hand, don’t want to work the long hours, just enough to keep us going. Our place of employment and our job title are not indicators of our identities.

Millennials are the most individualistic generation, but individualism has been on the rise in America since the late 1800’s. The steady move from blue collar to white collar jobs in the US is at least partially responsible. Baby Boomers were raised with the idea of the “American Dream,” the idea that everyone who worked hard enough could earn all the money they could ever want, and that idea influence their lives. Then America started moving away from a production-based economy. Factories and other jobs were shipped overseas, and the number of college graduates rose. Millennials watched in droves as their parents lost jobs with companies they had worked at for decades, -all with nothing but a pat on the shoulder- and suddenly career loyalty or working your life away for forty years no longer seemed to make sense. Companies, especially corporations, proved they had little loyalty to their employees, and that was a lesson Millennials took to heart. Now with a vast workforce of millions of college educated people, companies have become even less interested in employee retention and more concerned with their bottom line. It should be no surprise that the newest working generation is less concerned about finding a career, and more concerned about living our lives. We now expect to change jobs dozens of times and even change career fields once or twice. Workers are faceless clones in an ever growing army that are both expendable and replaceable. There is no fulfillment of identity or purpose in that kind of environment, especially considering more and more Millennials do not even see money as a motivating factor, but that is not the only institution we are changing.

I know…
Han and Leia got married at some point between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. A lot of people claim that Millennials do not have the patience or commitment for marriage, but that’s not exactly correct. Yes, traditional marriage has begun to break down for the Millennial Generation, not because of dedication. Only 26% of Millennials have currently tied the knot, which is minuscule compared with the fact that 48% of Baby Boomers were married when they were our age. Yet, it also worth noting that divorce rates are now the lowest in the United States since the 1980’s. This is partially due to the low marriage rate, but also because the new median marriage age is 27 for women and 29 for men. Many Millennials are getting married older or not at all, because we tend to hold the union as less sacred.

Many people in our generation grew up as a product of divorce, two parents who rushed into marriage in their early 20’s only to discover they actually hated one another, often with one or possibly two kids caught in between. We’re not saying Kylo Ren fell to the Darkside because Leia and Han split up, but he is more likely to spend time finding himself as a person -or as a dark Jedi- before running off to marry his high school sweetheart. The Greatest Generation got married after the war, committing fully till “death do us part,” even if they hated one another. Baby Boomers followed their example, but as their marriage progressed and life goals changed things fell apart. Getting married after high school or college is too young. Boomers watched their parents have long lasting relationships and believed it was what they had to do, but 50% of the time it didn’t work. Generation Xers and Millennials then grew up knowing first hand the process and pain of divorce and loveless marriages. We are getting married later or not at all partially because of what we witnessed as children.

When Almost 900 Years You Be…
Kylo Ren fell to the Darkside, and Millennials aren’t perfect, because of course we aren’t. We might be the generation to solve climate change or put a man on Mars, but we are also the generation that invented the selfie, perfected cyber bullying, and created the Kardashian -a creature that takes more than a thousand years to digest your soul. Accusations of being “entitled” are exaggerated but not completely untrue, but every generation has had their mistakes. We do not want to make this article an attack on anyone, but it is worth noting that no one is perfect.

After all, Baby Boomers spent their youth rebelling against Vietnam but grew up to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan. They preached about loving the Earth and your brother, but contributed significantly to rising CO2 levels and and rising racial tensions. Baby Boomers are the richest generation, and yet have created economic policies and college debt that has ensured that Millennials will be the first generation not to do financially better than their parents in over a century. Also, Donald Trump… We point out these out not to be mean or spiteful, but just to make a point. We all have flaws, but we are also all products of our time. Our generation is the most educated generation and the most skilled. We are also the most tolerant and racially diverse, with 15% of all Millennial marriages being interracial, more than any other generation. We are also the generation that is often closest with our parents, seeing them as friends rather than rivals, because there is no war, Generational War or Star War.

Even the idea of “generations” is as much a fantasy as Lucas’ opus. There are over 80 million “Millennials” now in America, -more than even Baby Boomers- mostly thanks to immigration and a changing population. However, those numbers aren’t exact, because generational lines are blurry and ill-defined. Baby Boomers are actually the only discernible population trend thanks to the “busyness” of their parents after the war. The rest of us are just left to be defined by vague ideas and changes in technology and culture, but isn’t that kind of the point we are making? Millennials are only different because we were born in different times. We have better access to technology, education, healthcare, and all sorts of privileges that past generations never had.

Millennials are smart, caring, and incredibly. We might harness technology that can save this world, and it is because of the older generation. It is their gift to us. Our problems and concerns will always seem weird and trivial when viewed by people who had to worry about The Great Depression or nuclear war with Russia, but don’t we want the world to be better for our kids. When we say things like, “Back in my day we had to walk ten miles in the snow…” aren’t we really just saying, “I’m sure glad someone invented the car for you.” So, parents, go give your Millennial a hug, just make sure he’s not holding a lightsaber while standing on a catwalk over a deep abyss.

Like many children of the 80’s and 90’s most of us here at The NYRD were fortunate enough to be raised by a third parent, television. The moving images on the screen kept us entertained and taught us many lessons  in the process. Bugs Bunny expanded our vocabulary -indubitably- and how to avoid hunters by cross-dressing. Reading Rainbow taught us that the USS Enterprise has a really good library, but it was Saturday Morning Cartoons that taught us all about what it meant to be a hero, to be the good guy. So, in this turbulent time of politics, struggle, and uncertainty it might be time we all stepped back to our younger days and revisited those Saturday mornings, when the difference between “good” and” bad” was defined by a character’s actions.

He-Manhood
While other boys and girls were modeling their ideals of adulthood on professional sports players, teachers… mailmen? We wouldn’t really know… For many of us our vision of responsibility came came from men and women who fired lasers at each other, while never once killing anyone. It came from mutated ninja creatures who brandished dangerous weapons, while never once killing anyone. It came from talking-car-robots, talking-cat-warriors, and even that one show where spacemen rode dinosaurs. Truly, it was a magical time to be alive. Do you remember when you got up earlier than you ever would again in your life? When you stuffed yourself full of cereal and spent a solid four or five hours ingesting as much animated antics as possible? There was nothing like being hopped up on sugar and watching the forces of good do battle with the minions of evil. The best part was that in shows like, He-Man, G.I. Joe, Jem and the Holograms, Transformers, or Thundercats you always knew who was the good guy and who was the bad, and it wasn’t just because some were dressed like snakes.

There was always one particularly defining moment in every single cartoon that separated the good guy from the bad. It is a TV Trope, called Save the Villain, but around here we simply call it the “Cliff Test.” There always came a time when the hero was fighting the villain high atop a mountain, or suspended walkway, or floating balloon-platform-death-machine. Whether it was Duke duking it out with Cobra Commander, Lion-O battling-O with Mumm-Ra, or He-man He-punching Skelator in the face, it usually ended the same way. Inevitably, the villain would lose his footing and fall, grabbing for the ledge at the last moment. Then the hero would step to the precipice to find their fiendish mortal foe dangling helplessly by a mere few fingers. It would be so easy to finish them off and end the fight, but not for our true blue hero. Instead the good guy would reach down his hand and grab the very same person he or she had spent the last five minutes fighting in a life and death battle.

It was in those moments that heroism became defined for many of us. When a foe was clinging helplessly to life, regardless of how evil or terrible they were, the hero had to save them. It was almost an obligation, an understanding that all life is precious. The real test of valor is passed once the hero makes the decision to assist their nemesis, even in spite of all the bad that person had committed, and  the fact that seconds before the hero would have killed that villain in combat given the chance. It is the difference between self-defense and letting a helpless man -even an evil man- suffer needlessly, because that would not be heroism. That would be cowardice, and it serves no one, least of all the hero. Despite how childish that kind of thinking might seem to some people nowadays, it is not an ideal we should be so quick to discard as people or as a nation.

A Mutant Teenager’s Guide to Politics
Nowadays, when we look at the news and read about how some States are trying to deny services and opportunities to the LGBTQ community; or how we -a nation of immigrants- fear those who are fleeing violence and oppression in the Middle East; or that the front-runner for the GOP nomination is… well a literal cartoon super-villain we have to take a step back and wonder. Are we really the heroes we want to be? Did we grow into the men and women that those little sugar-addicted-cartoon-devouring kids would be proud to be? We are not claiming that America is the bad guy in this story, but it is also time to wonder if we are still the good guy, or at least the hero?

Everyday we watch the country and those around us succumb more and more to greed, fear, and mistrust. When we were growing up we would watch TV and find colorful heroes teaching us lessons of selflessness. The children of today now watch TV -but most likely the Internet- and see Presidential candidates openly condoning the bombing and torturing of enemies and innocents. That is not just a failure of the Cliff Test, that is like gleefully throwing a box of small puppies at your helpless enemy, in hopes of knocking him from his perch. If our cartoons gave us hope for a better future and a better us, where will the children of today find hope when they see how we treat our most vulnerable? What will they grow up believing when Tennessee, North Carolina, and a slew of other States use the thin guise of religion to mask their bigotry, like the plot of a Saturday Morning Cartoon that would border on unbelievable even if Shredder himself came up with it. We are not just failing the Cliff Test, but actively plotting to push people off in the first place.

We are not saying that we should all hope for peace and love, because those cartoons were also about fighting for what was right -and selling toys. We are not naive enough to believe that the world is black and white, filled with Autobots and Decepticons -a thought that was more appealing pre-Michael Bay- but it is worth measuring our actions today against the expectations of our childhood selves. After all, when refugees from war torn countries, who are begging for our help and fleeing the very enemies we claim to oppose, don’t we have an obligation to do so? Isn’t that what Master Splinter would tell us to do? If we are the heroes than we have a sacred duty to pull them to safety, and yet even in this we often fail to live up to our potential. Maybe you cannot apply technicolor 2D morality to our 3D world, but does that mean we should stop trying? Maybe it is easier to close our borders, “bomb the sh*t” out of everyone else, and deny rights to anyone who is different from us, but is that what Optimus Prime would do? Is that what Lion-O would do? Is that what the eight year old you would do?

‘Curse Your Sudden but Inevitable Betrayal
In those old cartoons -undoubtedly- the villain would use the moment he is being saved to revel a weapon or try to do something to knock the hero from the ledge, just as he or she reached down to grab them. There may be some who will point to that as a worthwhile and cautionary metaphor. A bad guy will always try to use our heroism against us. They will inevitably take advantage of our good graces and our compassion, but that does not mean we should stop having compassion. In the Cliff Test, when the villain lashes out it often forces the hero to jump back resulting in Cobra Commander or Skeletor or whoever falling to their doom -at least until the next episode- but that betrayal is not the point of this test. The test is not about what a villain can do, only about what a hero should do. You show compassion not because of the person you are saving but because it is the right thing to do… roll credits. The betrayal will come or it won’t, but it cannot affect how we conduct ourselves.

Being a hero means choosing hope for us and those around us. If we allow ourselves to live in fear of the infinitesimal percentage of refugees who are actually criminals -let alone terrorists- or if we find it easier to hide behind “Religious Freedom” rather than face those who are different, than we had better be ready to stop claiming any moral high ground. No, if we as a nation want to be the “good guys” that we have always told ourselves that we are, we have to be prepared to climb to that precarious ledge, and fight and help anyone who is vulnerable or downtrodden, whether they be Muslim, LGBTQ, or even a Trump supporter. They all deserve to be rescued from whatever ledge they are grasping desperately onto, because if we refuse than what will today’s cereal-eating eight year olds come to believe about heroism? If we disenfranchise the next generation during their formative years than one day we may find that we are the ones dangling from that cliff, without anyone willing to help us.

Ultimately, the Cliff Test is not about the villain at all, but about the hero. By helping the bad guy, the good guy is helping himself. It is a way to reaffirm his or her actions and reinforce the kind of world we are all fighting for; a fair one, a just one, and a merciful one. So in fact, the hero is not only reaching down to save the villain, but they are reaching down to save themselves. Right now we all stand upon a similar cliff, over a a possibly hot and menacing volcano. Everyday we are faced with others in need who are dangling by mere fingers, ready to fall. This is true for us as a nation and for us as individuals in our day-to-day lives. We may not agree with them, we may even hate them, but we can never turn our backs on them or forget that they are human beings who deserve a chance at hope.

There are issues facing our country and our world that just seem so big, too heavy to lift, and it would be simple to let them fall away. It would be easy to stop fighting and stop caring. It literally requires that we do nothing, but is that what He-Man would do? Is that the principals that GI Joe, the Ninja Turtles, and all the rest of those colorful childhood heroes fought for? We can choose to do nothing or we can reach down and help, and not because that person may be someone we see as an enemy, but because they are a person. It is not about agreeing with them, but it is about choosing to believe we can all be better. We need to do the right thing for no other reason than because it is the right thing to do. We all stand on a cliff, everyday, in big and small ways. So what will you do?

Perhaps you recently read that we here at The NYRD have decided that it is time to introduce a new party to the hot, sticky, and unseemly jungle that is American politics. Thus, the Nerd Party has been born and we are committed to doing what is right for Americans, young and old, man and woman, poindexter or dweeb, alike. As a party we believe in values like justice, fairness, equality-ness, and cosplay, but it’s hard to launch a campaign on those vague ideas, especially cosplay. That is why we thought it might be time to clarify our positions on some very important topics.

Healthcare
Since March of 2010 America has endured under the economic weight of the Affordable Care Act. This legislation, passed by partisan votes in the House and Senate, has become one of the most divisive bills in American history, and has suffered tragically in runaway costs, websites that don’t work, and fewer choices of robots. So, we at the Nerd Party believe that there is another way, a better way, a mechanical way.

On day one in office we will ask Congress to repeal Obamacare and replace this divisive law with a plan we are calling Robocare. Much like the Republican candidates and their esteemed orange front-runner we believe that the free market can fix all our problems, like a magic wand made of elm with a core of a single strand of toupee of Trump. So, we asked ourselves, what is the most proven tactic for the free market economy? Then we answered ourselves: automation.

This proven tactic helped drive down costs and increase production in factories all across the American heartland and it is painfully obvious that if we want to truly reduce the costs of our medical system, robots are our only logical choice. So, the Nerd Party is committed to the belief that anyone in America has the right to visit any robot physician they choos. Best of all the GOP Congress will have to vote for it. It embodies all the the cold, unfeeling, and mechanical aspects of a free market healthcare plan that they are looking for, because when getting a prostate exam there is nothing quite like the metallic finger of the free market. So, America, we don’t care if you’re visiting a state of the art surgery-droid or a Roomba with a scalpel duct taped to it. It is your God given American right to be able to have access to any robot of your choosing, because if Donald Trump gets his way most people will probably only be able to afford Dr. Siri anyway.

International Relations
A main component of our China policy is leadership, and demanding extra egg rolls. We strongly believe that good international relations are key to the prosperity of America, but we are not afraid to get tough about it either. That is why we will never back down and never compromise with tyrant countries like China, Mexico or Smurf Village. The rest of the world has come to see the United States as soft over the past 8 years. They have even begun to believe that we might be a country willing to work toward reasonable global partnership, as if we actually cared about the rest of the world.

So we at the Nerd Party have a plan to fix all that. To start we will be ordering Wakanda to forgive all our debts for Vibranium purchases going back to World War II. After all, we legally purchased the material and promised payment in good faith, but screw them. We’re Americans, not Lannisters. We don’t have to pay our debts. Also, we are fully prepared to order the US military into Narnia if thier religious dictator of a lion refuses to build a wall around every wardrobe in this country. We can no longer tolerate them sending us their murders, rapists, and satyrs. More importantly, we are fully prepared to order airstrikes on all training camps used by terrorists and dark wizards. We cannot let places like Hogwarts -an admitted school of witchcraft- continue unchallenged.

Political Finance Reform
The Nerd Party finances its own campaign, mostly through the selling of our old comics and Star Wars action figures -still in the original packaging- but there are a select few politicians that believe there is too much money in politics. Currently big corporations and billionaire donors can give unlimited money to Super PACs, anonymously. Super PACs can then use that unlimited cash flow to support any candidate they choose, and by “any candidate”  we mean the candidate that set up the Super PAC in the first place. However, we here at the Nerd Party believe that there should be even more money in politics, and different types of money too. We’re talking BitCoins, Steam credit, and even Amazon gift cards, because if it’s good enough to be a gift from our grandmothers, than surely it’s good enough as a campaign donation.

The way we see it, money in politics is like money in video games. Sure you can work hard, level your character, and gain experience and gold through honest gameplay, but that’s for suckers. Why not just use your credit card information to purchase that Level 100 Glowing Weapon of Awesomeness or that +20 Strength Armor of Impenetrable Steel? Who cares if wearing them unfairly represents the actual level of skill and trust that you have earned in a game that so many others have devoted months and years of their life to playing fairly? Politics isn’t about trust, its about winning, so why should we have to settle for that Level 5 Campaign Poster when we can get a few rich kids to pay for the +30 Platinum Campaign Ad Blitz. After all, they’re just doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s not like we’re going to owe them anything at some point down the line… right?

Tax Reform
Too few Americans are working, too many jobs have been shipped overseas, and too many families cannot make ends meet. The Democrats want to blame this problem on the top 1% and say that we should raise their taxes to compensate for our failing middle class. Yet, we here at the Nerd Party feel that we need to place blame where blame is due, and that is squarely on the scaly shoulders of those who deserve it, dragons. For too long these giant fire-breathing lizards have terrorized farm lands and horded our gold reserves, putting good working class families out of business and obtaining wealth that they have no intention to reinvest in the economy. Who really needs to sleep on a mound of gold, other than Donald Trump, but we hear that’s just for lumbar support.

The rich are not to blame. We give them tax breaks and they give the rest of us wonderful gifts in return, such as low wage jobs, union crushing lawsuits, and the Kardashians. No the real culprits are dragons and it is time we start raising taxes on Smaug and his ilk of fiendish lizard misers. Unlike bank CEO’s or trust fund managers, their greed knows no bounds. They only live to acquire more wealth  than they possibly need. That is bad for the economy because if money or Dwarven gold is not invested properly into the market than it cannot grow or be taxed to help provide public services or private industry growth. That is why under the Nerd Party we will be implementing a 35% Dragon Horde tax. Every year we will send a group of IRS agents to the lair of every dragon in America to collect a percentage of their gold. Those that come back alive will surely bring with them enough new tax money to help boost our flagging economy. You might laugh at us now, but even you have to agree that taxing dragons is at least less of a fairy tale economic strategy than giving breaks to the already wealthiest 1% of this country.

Immigration
Real immigration reform puts the needs of working people first, and that is why the Nerd Party we will not back down from our powerful neighbors to the south. We have had enough of Mexican tyranny. Sure, they are ranked 15th in GDP, and we’re ranked number 1. Sure, they import more American goods than almost any other country, but we are tired of their sass and lack of construction efforts. When the Nerd Party takes power, we will not only force them to make a wall, but also a ceiling, some nice laminated wood panel flooring, and maybe even a sun porch.

This wall will be the biggest wall you have ever seen, but that is only the beginning, because after we build it we will form a group of dedicated individuals who will stand atop that wall and swear an oath to hold no lands, father no children, wear no crowns -not even those paper Burger King ones- and win no glory. They will live and die at their post, and make sure no Mexican, Wildling, or White Walker can ever get across. Our first priority needs to be securing our borders against anyone who just wants to make a better life for themselves.

That is also why we will be closing our borders to all Jedi Knights. Please know that we are not unreasonable, and we acknowledge that not all Jedi are Sith, but can we really take that kind of a risk with the safety of American lives. Last year Dark Jedi killed millions during the Starkiller attacks, and even though that was the work of only one or two individuals, we will irrationally blame every person identifying as a Jedi. Please also note that this will only be a temporary measure, but it will be aimed at keeping out any knight, padawan, or anyone else in a bathrobe. We will turn them all away, even those who are desperately and innocently fleeing the very things we are afraid of: terrorism, war, and Order 66. We cannot let these types of religious fanatics into America, especially when we already have so many of our own types of religious fanatics already here.

Second Amendment
The Second Amendment to our constition is clear -well kinda/sorta clear- and that is why we have made our position on this issue equally clear. However, we feel this amendment needs to go further. That is why the Nerd Party is pushing for an expansion to allow citizens the right to keep and bear doomsday devices, without limit. We are talking about weather dominators, moon-based laser cannons, fission bombs hidden away on islands shaped like skulls. The world has changed and muskets alone are no longer enough to overthrow a tyrannical government on a whim, and for far too long only super-villains have had access to these types of weapons. We, as Americans, cannot rely on British super spies to be there every time one of those criminals wants to hold a global nation hostage for ransom money. The only way to stop a bad guy with a thermonuclear device is a good guy with a thermonuclear device. Thus, our stance on the Second Amendment is much like America’s stance on nuclear weapons in the Cold War, mutually assured… something. We never really paid attention too well in history class, and it doesn’t matter.

You see, our real problem is that we need to reform our mental health care system. Places like Arkham Asylum are nothing but revolving door facilities, and super-villains by definition are criminally insane. We need to improve our medical screening process to be on the look out for megalomaniacs who might have the power and resources to do real damage to this country. All super-villainous acts have one thing in common- there were red flags that were ignored. People of power and influence, with giant egos and small hands, who were allowed to continue in their megalomania undiagnosed, until they were pushed too far. One day a man is a typical billionaire real estate mogul/reality star and the next he is wearing an iron mask and calling himself a ridiculous villain name like “The Revenger,” “The Doomsayer,” or  “The Donald.”

The Nerd Party truly believes that we need a better system for identifying these types of people and getting them off the streets, because at least the majority of people who own guns can only hurt a few innocents, but megalomaniacs can hurt our entire nation, sometimes even without missile based satellite technology.

So, remember to get out there and vote Nerd, because really what other choices do you have left?

It is that time of the year again, the super bowl of the film industry, the Oscars. It is when the stars and starlets of Hollywood come out to pat each other on the back and congratulate themselves for all the hard work they accomplished over the past year. We all watch as the names are called and the nominees sit fidgeting in their seats, a sea of nervous and expectant and very much white faces. For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated only white actors for the actor categories, and though we here at The NYRD are not big on award shows -mostly because we have never been nominated for anything- we feel it is time we explore this trend in more depth.

The Nominations for Best Statistic in a Historic Context
One in 10,000. When the Economist looked at the demographics of actors who are members of the Screen Actors Guild they found that roughly 30% of the SAG members are minority actors. so, if all the guild members were equally likely to receive Oscar nominations then each year -statistically speaking- minority Guild members would receive 12 out of the 40 available acting nominations. Yet, for 2016 and 2015 that was not the case, but just by shear numbers alone the odds of no single minority actor being nominated in back to back ceremonies, even during a 15-year period, are around 1 in 100,000. However, both you and that racists guy on the subway know that Oscar nominations are not handed out based on the statistical analysis of  sample groups.

The first black actor to win was Hattie McDaniel for Best Supporting Actress in 1939. She portrayed Mammy in Gone With the Wind, and accepted the award at a time when black people were not even allowed to be guests in the hotel that the Oscars were being held in. Yet, this milestone was not as historic as you might first think. McDaniel -herself the daughter of two former slaves- won for portraying a sassy black slave in a white-led picture. That was one of only few “acceptable” roles for black people to play in the 1930’s and 1940’s, let alone win an award for, but at least we have moved beyond that… right? Well, it was 27 years until Sidney Poitier won a Best Actor award, 73 years until a black woman, Halle Berry, won for Best Actress, and the most recent black actor to take home an award was Lupita Nyongo in 2014 for her stirring portrayal of… you guessed it… a slave woman. Only 15 African American actors have ever won an Oscar since the Academy began giving out awards in 1929.

Of course, the statistics get even more depressing when you move from black Americans to other racial minorities. African Americans make up about 12.6% of the American population, and since 2000 10% of Oscar nominations have gone to black actors. Latinos make up 16% of the American population and have only nabbed just 3% of nominations. Only 1% of actors with Asian backgrounds have received any nominations, and only 2% of actors from other heritage groups have ever been nominated. No one from those last two categories has ever won. It is even worse if you a woman or a member of the LGBTQ community.

Behind the Scenes
So why does this happen? Isn’t prejudice over in America? The answer to that, by the way, is a resounding, “No.” Like Hattie McDaniel, minorities are still finding themselves saddled with new but “acceptable” roles. They may no longer be the role of the sassy slave -even if some of them still are- but they exist. For African Americans it is the role of the rapper or the sports star. For Asians it is the role of the buffoon or the dragon lady. For Hispanics the role of the gang member or cleaning lady, and the list goes on and on. All of this happens, while white actors continue to get roles meant for minorities, such as casting Emma Stone as a Hawaiian, Ben Afleck as Latino, or Johnny Depp as Native American. Studios will tell you that these decisions are made for financial reasons. It can take over $100 million to get a movie off the ground and most studio executives are not be willing to risk that kind of cash on an unknown minority lead, which is sort of like saying you never want to risk trying asparagus because you’ve never tried asparagus before. It becomes a slow self-perpetuating problem.

Yet, surely Hollywood -the bastion of liberal America- has moved beyond institutional racism by 2016? The answer again, is a resounding “No.” Hollywood is much like any other industry in America, and despite the left-leaning views of its actors, the establishment is still very much entrenched in the racial notions of the past. The majority of the current membership of the Academy is still white and over 50, with an average age of about 63. Many of the people who are doing the nominating and decision making in Hollywood are still very much old, rich, male, and white. We here at The NYRD are not saying these gentlemen are overtly racist, but they are overtly stuck in their ways. Anything in the entertainment industry moves at glacial speed and change doubly so. When it comes to the movies themselves, they have become about opening box-office weekend profits, or chasing the current movie trend whether it be video game nostalgia, superheroes, or Chris Pratt. So studio executives will claim they are only following the trends set out by movie-goers, and that brings us to our next problem.

The Seat-Fillers
According to the LA Weekly, 61% of people in California who give their money to the entertainment industry are non-white, and yet even with such an overwhelming number of minority viewers and movie-goers Hollywood still chooses Jack Black to voice a kung-fu Panda while Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan have about five lines apiece in the same movie. So, what do we do as the viewing audience, protest? No, we go and see the movie anyway. We give our money to studios and say, “Ehh whatever, it’s just a cartoon. It’s just a movie.” It’s just a fictional representation internalized by society and subconsciously perpetuated everyday in America. Movies are not mindless entertainment, they are art imitating life imitating art.

Yet, we continue to support films that cast white leads as opposed to minorities. Even majorly minority movies, like Glory still prominently feature Ferris Bueller in the lead, because studios fear audience will not show up to see the movie otherwise, and in a way they are right. Selma has a 99% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and yet it was beat in the box office by -in no particular order- a terrible movie about a kid with spider-powers, a story about Matthew McConaughey in space, a story about giant robots destroying our collective childhoods, a story about Jennifer Lawrence looking for her pita bread, and the list goes on. Of IMDB’s top 50 movies for 2014, only one of them stars a minority lead, and its a wacky comedy. In fact, compare Selma, a historic account of the Civil Rights movement, to 2014’s American Sniper, a historic account of a Bradley Cooper killing brown people and you start to see some disheartening numbers. Selma made $66.8 million, American Sniper made $547.4 million. Most of us cannot vote in the Oscars, but we do vote with our feet and our wallets.

When a child in a minority group looks up at a movie screen and sees no one who looks like themselves, they may not necessarily think, “I’m the weird one,” but when they see that same whiteness spread out across several movies and TV shows, then at least part of them begins to see that as “normal.” It is a problem when the things we pay hard earned money to entertain us also gives us subtle messages that white is normal, and non-white is the “other;” or that white equals the hero while black equals the gang member, Middle Eastern equals the terrorist, or Indian equals the IT guy. This is a trend that is not entirely the fault of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but it most acutely represented by the Oscars. All we can say is that maybe it is a time we took a good hard look at both Hollywood and ourselves. Change needs to come from theater seat, because right now it is not coming from the nominator’s or the director’s seat.

We here at The NYRD finally feel that enough time has passed that we can be -relatively- certain that most of the world has seen Star Wars: The Force Rises Groggily After Its Alarm Goes Off. So we decided that now might be the best time to have a heart-to-heart about the movie’s main protagonist, Kylo Ren and how he almost certainly reflects the Star Wars and geek community at large. We are by no means the first people to point this out, but we think that both it and Ren are worth exploring. It should also be said right now that if you haven’t yet seen this movie -because you’ve obviously been frozen in carbonite for the past six months and we want to welcome you back to reality- be warned, SPOILERS AHEAD.

Geeking Out Far Far Away
Kylo Ren is a geek, and not just any geek. He’s a Star Wars geek, and we mean that in both the sense that he is a geek in the Star Wars galaxy and a geek for the Star Wars galaxy, specifically the story of Darth Vader. Kylo Ren is obsessed with Vader in only the way someone on an Internet forum could be. More to the point, he also hates Anakin Skywalker -and possibly Jar Jar Binks- because he is that kind of a nerd. Kylo Ren is a purist. In essence he is a fan of the original trilogy, and only the original trilogy.

It makes sense in a way. Darth Vader is by far one of the coolest villains in all of movie history. Tall, imposing, and vicious he is more a force of nature than an actual person. “More man than machine,” as someone once said. Even when Vader gets angry all he has to do is force choke an admiral or two and be on his way. He almost never flies off the handle or acts irrationally, except for that whole Nooooooooo incident, but we don’t really talk about that… except for right now. The reason that outburst of emotion at the end of Revenge of the Sith seems so odd is because it is way out of character for what we know as the big man in black. That is also why so many people have so many problems with Anakin Skywalker, Kylo Ren included.

Hayden Christensen’s and Jake Lloyd’s acting aside, Anakin is annoying. It is one of the reasons why the prequel trilogy never worked as well as the original. Unfortunately, by the very nature of the character of Anakin Skywalker he will always get immediately compared with Darth Vader and will always come back looking weak and whinny when compared to his cooler and older counterpart. However and more to the point for Kylo Ren, Anakin Skywalker was good and Darth Vader was not, and that is where the distinction seems to be drawn for our Master of the Knights of Ren. The son of Han and Leia is a hardcore fan. He practically cosplays as the man and he even went so far as to collect memorabilia of his grandfather -though he did take it out of its original packaging so it will eventually depreciate in value.

Let the Nerd Rage Flow Through You
The irony is that Kylo Ren is arguably more powerful than his grandfather. It was often said that all the machinery in Vader kept him from fully accessing the Force, but his grandson does not have that limitation. He does not merely stop a blaster bolt with his hand, as Vader did. Ren freezes it completely in mid-air, and then proceeds to have a conversation with very little effort. Kylo Ren can rip memories and information from people’s minds. He does not simply Force choke his opponents he completely incapacitates them. However, unlike Vader’s cool and simmering anger, Ren’s rage explodes in violent tantrums. In many ways he is a child, an incredible dangerous one, but a child nonetheless.

What makes Kyle Ren more dangerous than Darth Vader is that Ren is a white-knuckled-zealous-fanatic when it comes to the First Order. He doesn’t just believe in this new diet version of the Empire, he lives it. It is part of his identity as a person. Anakin Skywalker on the other hand only joined Palpatine in some misguided attempt to save Queen Panda Bear. He held some beliefs similar to Darth Sidious, but his motives were more about justifying a personal end. That is why he ultimately turned back toward the lightside when confronted with the faith of his son, and why Ben Solo did not turn back when faced with the faith of his father. His obsession with the First Order and the darkside are part of how he identifies himself as a person, same as any one of us who proudly label ourselves as an unabashed Star Wars geek or nerd. After all, that is why so many people get so angry over things like the Special Editions, or the prequels, or anything else George Lucas did in the past two decades. No matter how much we may not mean to, we make these things part of ourselves and then when someone or something threatens them we react, sometimes irrationally.

In the Star Wars: The Force Struggles to Brew Its Morning Coffee, Kylo Ren’s rage is often triggered when things are not going his way, but especially when people violate the things he holds sacred. When faced with “Finn the Human” he very clearly yells the word “traitor,” because that matters to him. Finn, by running away from the First Order, stepped on something Ren holds dear. Vader, on the other hand, never cared if you were a defecting stormtrooper, Rebel-cannon-fodder #2, or a Kowakian monkey-lizard. He would just kill you without needing to tell you what you were. Also and in the most heavy handed symbolism of the movie, Kylo Ren literally unleashes his rage on a computer terminal, because that’s what you do when you’re a nerd. If someone argues that “Greedo shot first,” your only recourse is to thrash wildly at a computer screen until you make your point, and that is exactly the guiding principle that drive Ren through most of the movie. Some people may find him to be an uncomfortable, petulant, and unabashed man-child. Unfortunately, that is also exactly how many people see us Millennials.

The Millennials’ Falcon
Kylo Ren is the kind of person who will defend his obsession with the countenance of a cosplaying Sith Lord who just got told that Captain Kirk could beat up Darth Maul, because he is a Millennial. Think about it for a moment. We can assume he was raised in relative comfort, living in the shadow of his famous parents. He probably never faced much hardship as the previous war was mostly won by the time he was born. The Empire was defeated, his parents and uncle were heroes, and he was expected to live up to their legacy. Yet, he was not as cool as his father, as smart as his mother, or as focused as his uncle. He probably spent much of his childhood feeling inadequate and alone and -like many of us- he turned to stories for solace and escape. He found his identity and idol in the man who was his grandfather. Dark, imposing, and powerful, Vader must have seemed like a mythic figure to young Ben Solo. He did not just want to be like the Sith lord, he wanted to be the Sith lord. He even went so far as to kill other Jedi students, emulating the violent acts of the man he admires.

Not all Millennials have lived the easy life in the shadow of the hardwork of their parents, just as not all nerds rage at computer screens when people disagree with them, but there is an intersection of both populations where that is the case. Jar Jar Abrams is making a comment on the blind fanaticism of hardcore Star Wars fans, but there might also be a valid criticism buried under that black mask as well. There is something ultimately chilling about a geek gone wrong. Kylo Ren is a villain who feels alone and unloved, and he long ago gave up reality for the fantasy of his obsessions. He did not just fall from the lightside, but actively ran from it. Despite his in inability to properly pace a movie, Abrams does a good job of holding up a mirror to his own audience. We are like Luke Skywalker, entering the Darkside Tree on Dagobah. We think we are facing an all powerful imposing villain, but instead when the mask falls away, we find a reflection of our own faces.

For the most part, Millennials, especially nerds and geeks, are amazing people. Most of them will give you the limited edition 1978 Millennium Falcon shirt right off their backs, but we must all admit that there is a darker aspect to our culture and our love of things, like Star Wars. Like Kylo Ren we tend to make our favorite stories a part of our identities and personalities, and then we rage against the people we perceive as threatening who we are. With the advent of the social media and a popular culture that has suddenly embraced all things geeky, the angry nerd is starting to become a villain. In a way we may be forgetting to actually enjoy the things we claim to love, and instead we are spending our time looking for all the little things that make us angry. The true irony is that there has been no bigger target for nerd rage over the last fifteen years than Star Wars. So maybe Abrams actually hit the womp rat on the nose with this one.  Star Wars: The Force Drags Itself Out of Bed and into the Shower was by no means a perfect movie, but it does remind us that it was just a movie.

There is a little document that a lot of Americans really enjoy fighting over, and for once we’re not talking about the draft sheet for your fantasy football league. The United States Bill of Rights were the first ten amendments added onto the US Constitution after its ratification, and much like the Bible or a Quentin Tarantino movie people try to use it as justification for doing almost anything. Now, like all good Americans we have all 10 amendments memorized -okay maybe only like 4 of them- but we all have our favorites. For example, we know that Todd particularly enjoys the Third Amendment, because every year during the Memorial Day parade, when members of the military band ask if they can use our bathroom, he screams “stop violating my civil rights,” and slams the door. Others out there may enjoy the First Amendment or the Sixth Amendment, however, most people these days are doing a lot of talking about the Second Amendment. So we thought it might be good to get a little historical context on what the Second Amendment was and how it has shaped the national debate currently going on around us.

Our Forefathers Can Beat-Up Your Forefathers
The full text of the Second Amendment reads, A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. Odd capitalization aside, we often find ourselves discussing the second part of that sentence but forgetting the first part. The ambiguity of the sentence has led to more than few arguments. It is just another thing we can blame on our Founding Fathers, because the argument we are having today still echoes the argument they had more than 200 years ago.

Before the Constitution was ever ratified the men who created our nation found themselves divided into two camps, Federalists and Anti-Federalists. Federalists essentially favored the Constitution and a stronger central government while Anti-Federalists favored stronger rights for the States. Sufficed to say, the Federalists won in the end, but not without a few compromises, and the biggest contention was over the right for the new US Government to raise a standing army. Federalists argued that a standing regular army was needed to protect the interests of the nation. The Anti-Federalists believed that a standing army, loyal to the government, was the first step toward tyranny. They resolved the debate by granting Congress the ability to raise an army, but could only fund it two years at a time. However, the second and more crucial safeguard against the oppression of a Federal army was the idea of militias.

Local militias were something the colonists were very familiar with. Colonial militias had existed for years and had fought with mixed success in the American Revolution, but State and local militias in colonial times were a lot more than just what the National Guard is today. They also served as the nations first paid police force. Aside from elected Sheriffs, militia men were tasked with bringing dangerous criminals to justice. So when the Bill of Rights was finally written in 1789 one of the first amendments passed by the House and Senate was for the establishment of State militias as a check against the existence of the Federal army and as a lawful body to help keep local peace. That makes sense, because at the time our Founding Fathers were more preoccupied with States rights versus Federal rights rather than if people could own guns.

The NaRrAtion of the Law
Even the original wording of James Madison, who wrote the Bill of Rights, seems to be more focused on the military aspect rather than a private citizen’s “right to bear arms.” Before it was altered by the Senate the amendment originally read, A well regulated Militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; but no person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms. Madison even included a clause for conscientious objectors, which again points to the fact that the amendment was more focused on the military aspect rather than gun ownership. However, we feel compelled to point out that the Founding Fathers may not have specifically pointed to the “right to bear arms,” but there is also evidence that in their day it was considered a natural and normal right and they may not have felt the need to codify it more than they already did. Thus, the “right to bear arms” part cannot be completely negated.

Going forward there became two narratives concerning the Second Amendment. Up until about the 1970s and 1980s, the narrative of “collective rights,” or “states rights” dominated the political and judicial thinking of the Second Amendment. This narrative argued that the amendment only protects gun ownership of the States, and not individual private citizens. Basically, it argues that the Second Amendment is meant to be interpreted as the Constitutional right of each State to establish National Guards that are controlled and armed by State officials. Fifty years ago, no one was having a debate about the right to gun ownership. Then in the late 20th century the narrative suddenly shifted to favor what is known as the “standard model,” which argued that the amendment was meant to be dominated by the second part of the sentence, in that it really grants individual citizens absolute rights to own and keep arms. This narrative became popular around 1977, when a little known organization called the National Rifle Association went from being a group that promoted gun safety to a group that suddenly began to lobby for gun ownership.

It is worth noting that even when the NRA started proclaiming that the Second Amendment was about the “rights to bear arms,” the conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice at the time, Warren R. Burger, openly mocked the idea as “one of the greatest pieces of fraud on the American people.” He thought it was a laughable interpretation. Yet, the NRA kept pushing, and their new narrative was bolstered by the election of Ronald Reagan, a pro-gun rights President, and by the gun manufacturers themselves who gave large sums to make sure that the people in Congress got behind it too. Still it was not until 2001, in the Fifth Circuit Appeals Court, in the case of The United States vs. Emerson, that any judge even voiced acceptance of the the idea that the Second Amendment protected the rights of individual gun owners. Even then, the opinion was not legally backed until 2008 in the case of The District of Columbia vs. Heller, when Antonin Scalia ruled that the government did not have a right to infringe on the ownership of handguns.

An Infallible Right
In 2011, gun manufactures made 4.3 billion dollars, thanks in no small part to the new interpretation that the American public had come to accept about the Second Amendment. Suddenly, it was American to own a gun and un-American to want to regulate guns, and they had a vested interest in keeping it that way. Yet, even during the entire period when the majority of Americans accepted the idea that the Second Amendment was about regulating militias, gun ownership was not illegal, but by changing the dialogue and making gun ownership a right -on par with free speech and religion- gun ownership went from “not being illegal” to “protected by the law” and those are two very different things. Gun ownership suddenly became so sacred as to be untouchable, but we feel compelled to point out that no other right granted by the constitution enjoys such unfettered legality.

George Washington famously said, “Individuals entering into society, must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest.” In other words, yes we have rights as citizens but we have to understand that when those “rights” interfere with the lives and rights of other citizens than we have to recognize the need for moderation. Thus, it is illegal to yell “fire” in a crowded theater, or to say “bomb” on a plane when there isn’t one, because those are not examples of free speech. They only serve to put others at risk. We have laws limiting or mitigating the effects of almost every amendment in the Bill of Rights, so why is it suddenly so unfathomable to have laws limiting gun ownership, regardless whether the Second Amendment was meant to refer to that specific right or not.

A lot of the problem goes back to the way the amendment was worded. People who claim it refers to the individual gun ownership model argue that the first part of the sentence, A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, is meant as a justifying preamble to the second half, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. And that could be true, but it is worth mentioning that no other amendment in the Bill of Rights starts with a justifying preamble. Everything else just states what it means to say without beating around the Constitutional bush. Still, it is worth remembering that the words are in there, and we know that the Founding Fathers did see gun ownership as a natural part of life. Yet, to them guns were single fire muskets that required a full minute of reload time, and that is also worth remembering.

The Right to Bear History
Times change, opinions change, and laws have to change to change with them. It is ironic how worried our Founding Fathers were about the existence of a standing United States Army, and yet there is not a single person today who still argues if the USA should have a standing army. Even more ironic Federalists like Washington, Adams, and Hamilton did not want a Bill of Rights at all, believing that the Constitution was enough to guarantee the freedoms of the people. They believed that codifying what they saw as the natural rights of man would ultimately make those rights “colorable” and open to be misinterpreted and used for demagoguery, kind of like exactly what is happening today with the Second Amendment.

Lastly, our Founding Fathers were men, who fought and argued, and bickered same as we do today. They compromised and struggled. They were not divine beings who granted us a document from the almighty. They were not perfect, and you do not need to look any further for proof than in their Three-Fifths Compromise. They also could not predict a future of drones, tanks, or assault weapons, and that is why they made the Constitution a living a document, one that could change with the times and be amended. They knew that future generations would face new problems and need to find new solutions. So, regardless, of how they, or the NRA, or you, or this website chooses to interpret the Second Amendment, it is also worth remembering that all those famous historical founders that stare at us from the fronts of money, entrusted us to make laws and interpret them to fit today’s world, and not the world of the single shot musket.

Zak woke with a start, sweat beading his forehead. He might have screamed but he couldn’t be sure. Some people were looking at him as if he might have. He ignored their stares and reached for the small woven rope that encircled his wrist, as if to reassure himself it still existed. Goose bumps rippled his arm and neck as he shivered despite the crush of human bodies around him. Almost every inch of the cold metal floor was occupied by men, women, and children. Families huddled close while strangers eyed each other from across the room. He ignored them all and tried to find sleep again.

The small blanket was barely enough to cover his body, but along with the bracelet it was all he had left, except for maybe his dreams. Sleep was the one place he could escape, and in those dreams he was back home, a small town in Iowa with his family. They had been lucky, most of the war hadn’t touched their part of the world. The big cities like New York and Chicago had felt the brunt of the destruction, but not their small rural community. No, for them it was more about the drought.

He still remembered when his father had announced that they couldn’t stay. “Earth is dying. The powerful and the demagogues are fighting over what’s left and it’s people like us who are going to get caught in between,” said his father to his mother when he didn’t think Zak was listening. “I know this guy from the dockyards. He says there’s a ship leaving and we can get on it.”

“Leave Earth?” Zak’s mother began to cry. She tried to hide it like she did some times, but Zak knew. He always knew when his mother cried. “Where will we go?”

“The ship is bound for the Laan Consortium. Once we get into their space they have to take us. It’s their code or something, at least that’s what some of the guys were saying.” He put a comforting hand on his sobbing wife’s shoulder. “It’ll be okay. We can start a new life there, a new home.”

“But this is our home. I grew up here. I thought Zak would…” The tears cut short her words.

At the mention of his name their son ducked behind the corner before they noticed him, but not before he heard his father say “Maybe we can come back someday, once the war is over and the famine…”

That little house seemed so far away now. He tried to find sleep again, but it wouldn’t come. Zak’s eyes slid to the media players that were mounted on the walls beyond the energy shield, which separated the humans from the rest of the spaceport. The video feed itself was in Standard Laanish, but the media player translated it into all spoken languages including Terran English. Two creatures, one a dark hairy muscular beast and the other a hairless smooth pale creature with giant eyes sat talking as footage played in the background.

“These humans are scum,” said big eyes. “Their planet is a mess of war and pollution, and now they expect to come here? We don’t want their burden or their problems. We have enough of our own.”

“They are a sentient species, like every person in the Consortium,” said his hairy opponent.

“No, not at all like us. They are primitive and savage. They can’t even stop from killing one another, and now they are bringing their violence here. There are billions of them on that planet. Do you expect us to accept every single one?”

“There are plenty of worlds in the consortium that have already opened their doors to these poor creatures…”

“And look what happened to them. Look at the violence taking place in F’rag’hul’ja? Thirty Consortium citizens are dead because a few humans decided to build a bomb. Why? Because their god told them to?”

“Those were human extremists. Most of them were let into the Consortium on temporary passes. There was only one asylum seeker among them.”

“Isn’t one enough? Even if less than 1% of humans are criminals, isn’t that enough reason to condemn them all, especially if it keeps our people safe. They don’t deserve to come here and just take opportunities away from citizens of this Consortium. We built our worlds, and we can’t let savages like them tear them down.”

“You can’t judge all human on the actions of a few.

“They are either criminals or will be criminals. They can’t help it. Look at human history, look at their world. They can’t control themselves, they are all killers and deviants. They don’t even celebrate Shad’lat or speak Laanish, like any decent sentient being…” Zak had heard enough. When he turned his head away the sound automatically stopped .

He realized he was playing with his bracelet again, feeling every bump and scratch of the coarse braid against his skin.The colors were fading and the small strands of rope were fraying from time and wear, but it still held together. If only barely, in some spots. He moved his hand away for fear of stressing it more and walked toward the energy fence that encircled the small human enclave.

Running a dry tongue over cracked lips he held out his hands and uttered the Graakic word for water. It had been a while since his last drink, but two soldiers beyond the fence just growled something to one another in their guttural language before cackling in what he recognized as laughter. Then the lizard creatures walked away, never once looking back at him or his outstretched hands.

“I don’t think they’re going to help you, boy,” said a kindly older man sitting near the perimeter of the energy field.

“What did they say?” said Zak.

The man hesitated for a moment but translated. “Something about how we all smell so bad of dirt and piss that they could smell it even through the fence.” He shook his head and spoke into his chest. “Why did I ever leave Earth?”

No one had meant to land on Graak, a small planetoid on the outskirts of the Laan Consortium. They had always meant to keep going to Trimble IV or even Deshdo where humans were being welcomed, like the promised land. It hadn’t worked out. Their ship had never been very space worthy to begin with, and in the end it just couldn’t take the journey. They had spent two weeks adrift in the void before a Laan patrol had found them.

The first time Zak saw the ship that his father had called the SS Alban, all he could think of was how gray it looked. It wasn’t like some of the cool looking military craft he had seen a few times, or even like one of the luxury spaceships that only the rich people could afford. No, the Alban was slate gray, as if it was still waiting to be painted something more exciting. It also wasn’t very big.

He was told the ship had been designed to hold fourteen people. They packed in twenty-seven and two babies. There had barely been a place to sit, let alone lie down. Even worse, the journey was slow. The FTL engine only did about .8 past the speed of light, and they felt every bump and whine as the Alban cruised through warped space.

More than a few people got sick from the motion of the trip, including Zak. He remembered retching up his small meals of bread and water. That was when his mother had made him the bracelet. She put it together from different pieces of rope and string she had collected from others on the Alban. He could still remember watching her as she wove each piece together, humming softly, a small smile turning up her lips.

“What if I don’t get better?” he had asked her as she tied the token around his wrist.

“Sometimes, you just need to have hope.” She kissed him on his head and it was true. Days later he recovered. It had only ever been nausea and space sickness. Unfortunately, others were not so lucky.

Zak and his family were fortunate enough to be closer to the front of the Alban. A few in the rear compartments had gotten very sick from a radiation leak in the engine. The crew eventually managed to fix it, but not before three people, including one of the infants died of FTL poisoning. The bodies had to be ejected into space, not just because of the radiation, but also because the ship had no place to store them. They had held what little ceremony they could for the dead, but it didn’t feel like enough, at least not to Zak.

Every fews day after those deaths his mother would take back his bracelet and add another strand of some piece of string or cloth that she collected from the ship. Maybe it was her way of reminding him that he was alive and every new moment should be cherished. Maybe it was her way of saying how they were all connected; they lived interwoven, like the braids on the bracelet; or maybe she just did it to keep busy, a way to keep her mind off the tragedies they had all witnessed. Unfortunately, the Alban was not done with tragedies.

Three weeks into the journey a small electrical fire broke out in one of the cargo compartments that housed some of the passengers. The doors on the ship sealed automatically and the people inside were trapped. Those that didn’t burn were killed by oxygen starvation. Five people died in a matter of minutes, including his mother. She had been in the compartment chatting with one of their old neighbors, possibly trying to get more strands to add to the bracelet. He was never certain. All he knew was that she would never see Earth again, dead or alive. As before, all the bodies had to be ejected into space. The Alban limped on, and so did Zak.

He could remember the sound when the engines finally died. He had thought they had already crossed into Consortium space, but he found out later that they were barely on the border. The FTL had been slowly growing fainter for more than two weeks, their speed ebbing away like a tired old man losing his fight against time. When the engines stopped completely all he had heard was quiet. It was like there was something missing, a familiar hum in the background that they had all grown accustomed to. It was like a mother’s touch, you never really noticed it till it was gone, and afterwards the world seem much lonelier and crueler.

That had been almost a year before. Zak was thirteen now, his birthday had come and gone, at least he thought it had. It was hard to keep track of the time of the year on a planetoid with a thirty-one hour day and only three quarters gravity. Everything was so alien, so different. He had grown up in the tundras of the American Midwest with wide expanses and fresh air. Now he was being held in the corner of a spaceport where the air was staler than the bowls of pudding-like substance they gave them to eat. It all happened while other beings, hundreds of thousands of light years away, debated if he and his people deserved the right to be free and happy, as if debating whether they were animals or people.

A small girl, with three eyes and a pretty face smiled at Zak from the distant side of the energy fence. He smiled back at her and she started to walk toward him before a restraining hand grabbed her and yanked her away. Her mother or father -Zak couldn’t really tell- was pulling her along and scolding her in a flute-like language. She looked back at him once more, this time in shock and with a new hint of fear. He couldn’t understand what her parent was saying but he had heard similar things enough times to make an educated guess. Fear and suspicion were higher than ever, especially after the attacks on F’rag’hul’ja. Everyone was on nerves and no one seemed to need look far for reasons to hate humans.

In the first camp they brought him to, Zak had met another boy, Peter. He had seemed nice enough, but pretty soon he started talking about everything he wanted to do to the people of the Laan Consortium. “Abominations against God,” he had called them and started reciting all these Bible verses. “It is the duty of humans to exterminate any creature that was not created in God’s image. The aliens of Laan are an affront to Jesus Christ.”

Zak didn’t see much of Peter again after that. There were never a lot of human extremists, but you found them here and there. Mostly it was just talk, old men venting about how it was in a world that they no longer walked on. His father had made sure to keep his son clear of people like that, but sometimes it was inevitable, and sometimes it was more than just talk. Sometimes it was far worse than just talk.

A Graakic month after they arrived a few humans attacked a Graak humanitarian worker. There was a fight and the Graak died along with one of the humans. It was Peter. Most people just shook their head and said how sad it was, or that Peter had been a hothead and he got what he deserved. Most of the people he knew in the camp felt bad over what had happened. “That’s no way for a human to behave,” said Mr. Glenrose. “That’s no way to repay the hospitality of these people.”

Unfortunately, the Graak weren’t satisfied with the remorse of humans, or maybe they didn’t believe it. A group of armed and angry Graakic citizen attacked the camp. They burned down tents and the make-shift barrack houses. They beat anyone they found near to death, calling them all “dirtlings,” and yelling how humans should go home. Mr. Glenrose and four other people died in the attack, and hundreds more were badly injured, including Zak’s father.

He had stood up to some of the Graak when they came, protecting his son. Zak could still remember his screams as they kicked him and beat him with clubs, but he refused to move. He refused to leave his son at the mercy of the mob. After that they took him to a hospital somewhere, but that was the last Zak saw of him. A few weeks later they transferred all the humans to different camps, and no Graak, Desh, Trim, or any alien who spoke Terran seemed to be able to tell him what had happened to his only parent.

He looked again at the fading braid on his wrist. The night of the attacks it had been nearly torn off, but it had held. Zak examined the bracelet and picked at the fraying ends of the weaker parts. It was as if he could not stop digging at it, like touching at a raw nerve in hope or disbelief. His memories were like that too. Sometimes, no matter how much he tried not to, he found himself seeing his mother’s body; hearing the cries of his father; or feeling the raw gut pain that came when he thought of the poor baby that did not make it to Graak. Part of him wanted to forget, but part of him also wanted to know why it was all happening to them. So he picked at his memories, at his pain, and at the small memento that sat on his arm.

“We are receiving word now,” said the blue-skinned newscaster on the media player, “that because of the attacks on F’rag’hul’ja,” the Consortium council has been forced to deport several hundred refugees back to Earth, for their own safety.” The video changed to show footage of attacks on human aid centers all across the Consortium. Fires burned and people of all types were fighting with fists, weapons, claws, and tentacles. “Officials have told us that those being moved are currently in the highest risk zones for anti-migrant violence. This decision also comes after the leaders of many worlds have begun openly refusing to accept any humans, saying that they pose too high of a risk to their native populations.”

A mummer went up from the people around Zak as more and more people were suddenly paying attention to the news feed.

“Humans in detention centers on parts of F’rag’hul’ja, Rangul, and Yulide are already being put onto ships for the return trip to their own homeworld of Earth. Consortium officials believed it was best to keep this secret for fear of further reprisals against the human migrants as they were transported to launch sites.” The video feed changed again to show lines of humans with armed guards surrounding them. Men, women, and children shuffled forward as they were loaded back onto waiting ships that seemed no sturdier than the Alban.

“That’s a death sentence,” said the older gentleman sitting beside him. “Half the warring factions on Earth will shoot any approaching ship out of orbit, and the other half will take them hostage to try and use as leverage.”

Zak just looked at him and twisted his braid nervously on his wrist, before returning his attention back to the distant media player. That was when he saw it. One of the shuffling figures. His shoulders were back and his head was down. He looked at the camera only once, but that was enough. It was enough for Zak to recognize his own father. He looked older and thinner than his son could remember. It was as if something had broken inside of him, as if he no longer cared.

“The Consortium Council is still trying to decide what they will do with the rest of the humans still currently being held in temporary detention centers, but more deportations could be expected. Experts are trying to determine how much of a threat the humans are to the the security of Laan and its member worlds. There is also a debate among many people of the Consortium of how deserving these creatures are of the same rights as every citizen of Laan, with many polls showing that a majority of Laan now believe that humans are less than sentient.

Zak felt the tension release before he heard the final snap. When he looked down his mother’s bracelet was in his hand. One of the ends had finally broken under his nervous tugging. Part of him wanted to cry,  but the rest of his body didn’t have enough water to allow it to happen. So he just stood there, watching the live feed as the ship holding his father blasted off into the dark violet skies of some alien world. The camera held for a second longer as the fast moving ship disappeared from sight, leaving only a small trail of smoke behind it.

In 75% Earth’s gravity the braided rope took longer to find the floor than Zak would have anticipated. He closed his hand around the nothingness that replaced it and watched the bracelet for a long moment, debating whether to pick it up again. Maybe it could be fixed. Maybe it could be made whole again. Instead, he just stepped over it and walked away finding that someone had already stolen his blanket. So he just laid down on the cold floor shivering, feeling suddenly less than who he had been, maybe even less than he would ever be again.

We here at The NYRD have been doing a lot of soul searching. Any loss of innocent lives is worth a pause and a prayer, but being New Yorkers we feel a kinship with those who have lived through the events of cowardly and horrific acts of terror. Our hearts and our thoughts are with our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic, in the Middle East, and everywhere else there is suffering. In situations such as these it is always the “what ifs” that cause the most pain. What if someone had gone left instead of right? What if that person had decided not to go out that night? What if an attack could have been predicted and stopped? What if we had the power to never let something like this happen again?

When Gods Watch the News
So it is in these times that we often find ourselves marveling at the Man of Steel. Superman, has more power than any person could ever dream to have. His speed and strength are matched only by his heart. The boy in blue has a true desire to protect the innocent and save the world, and yet for all his power, he is a failure. Sure he will stop the schemes of Lex Luthor or the machinations of the Legion of Doom, but no one will ever be 100% safe. Crime, poverty, death, and fear will never go away even with the entire Justice League patrolling the skies of our world. Yet, it is in times of tragedy that we all wish we were Superman, if only because we want to stop the pain and the suffering, but could we really?

If we were the Last Son of Krypton, enjoying a hot cup of coffee at home in our small Metropolis apartment and we turned on the news to see the chaos of the terrorism, the poverty, and the general state of the world, what would we feel? Sure, maybe we spent the morning punching an asteroid out of a collision course with the planet, but that kind of problem is easy. How do you solve deeper systemic issues of hatred, of terror, and of greed? What would a near-god feel when he saw the state of our world? Would he feel sadness, pity, anger, or maybe frustration?

Terrorism and extremism are not things you can just punch or heat vision away. The chaos that exists, exists because we are human and because we are different and because we have the freedom to be so. Most sane people know to voice their differences in the debate rooms or sporting arenas, but there will always be that small minority -of any religion- who will try to solve it with hatred and violence. The Man of Steel can survive bullets and bomb blasts, but what can he do when he is not there to help those who cannot?

Justifying the End
It is perhaps no small wonder that most Superman comics are not about Clark Kent taking over the world and declaring himself its protector-king. It would be an almost small task for him to accomplish, global domination for the sake of saving the world. It almost sounds noble. It almost sounds sane. It is wonder that there are not more stories about superheroes going all “Ozymandias” on the world. Sure there are always alternate timeline stories, but those are portrayed as unrealistic. Maybe the truth is that they are the most realistic. After all, if Superman really cared about saving everybody in the world he would accept the burden that dictatorship brought. If he really cared he would bring the corruption, the terrorism, the death, and violence to heel, by force if necessary. He must want to sometimes. He must look at the world and have that thought cross his mind when he sees dying children and when he hears the calls of starving families.

How does the most powerful man on the planet sit in his apartment on nights where every news stations plays footage of bomb blasts, starving children, and systemic genocide? How does Ka-El of Krypton feel when he arrives too late to do anything more than help with clean up? He must sometimes think about taking control and ending it. All he would need to do is reach out his hand and the world could be his to hold and squeeze. It may not be pretty, or heroic, but it would be effective. Taking away the freedom to be different and imposing his will would ensure peace and security. It would ensure that no innocent man, woman, or child ever had to feel unsafe in the streets of their homes or cower in fear of what the morning would bring. Under the steel rule of Superman, things like hunger, war, terrorism, and even global warming could all be erased. Is that not worth any cost, even freedom?

It Means Hope
We admire the restraint of Superman, because when we watch the news we question if we could exercise it. Yet, maybe the Man of Steel knows something we don’t. Maybe Clark Kent is a reporter not to find places he is needed, but to remind himself why he can never stop trying and never stop being Superman. We like to think that he sees the truth in it all, because these acts of butchery and cowardice are not committed by the majority, but a small small minority. Giving up our freedom in the name of security is no different than surrendering to the terror that these villains seek to impose. Clark knows that the world does not need an all-powerful emperor, but a symbol of all the things that can be good about humanity. The real power of Superman is not in his strength or flight, but his ability to inspire us to be better, to make the world better. He gives us the example we strive to live up to, because he knows that the vast majority of people aren’t the bad guys and together we are stronger.

That is why we love superheroes, not because of the capes or the explosions, but because they remind us about the best of what we are. It is why we invoke their symbols and their imagery in times of tragedy and it is their examples that  give us strength to be a little stronger, a little faster, and a little better when surrounded by chaos. They are also not alone, because with any tragedy you may find very few villains but a hell of a lot more heroes. Police, firefighters, soldiers, brothers, sisters, regular people who do the right thing. Like the people of Paris who opened their doors to strangers in need on the scariest night of their lives. People like that help, not because they are superhuman but because none of us are.

Superman is not real. He can’t take over the world and fix our problems for us, but the example he gives us is real, and it is only one of thousands of examples we see everyday from good and real people. We all need to be the heroes we want to see in our lives, because maybe one day, we can save the world, together. Until then, we hold all those who have been affected by violence and terror in our thoughts.

Once upon a midday dream, while we pondered Halloween,
Over many a quaint and curious website of digital lore,
While we searched, nearly napping, on the keyboard, always tapping,
And then some one gently rapping, dropping beats and rhymes galore.
“‘Stop this poetic bore,” twas muttered, “and write your journalist’s chore-
Only prose, and nothing more!”

Edgar Allan Poe’s classic, The Raven, is the right kind of story to set the mood for the coming holiday, especially if read by Homer Simpson. -It is unfortunate that our boss threw a flaming jack-o-lantern through the idea of doing an entire article in that style- However, old Edgar was not the first nor the last to give us the creeps, because being scared is part of being human. It gets our adrenaline pumping and helps us feel alive. Heck we have a whole holiday dedicated to it, but the origins of Halloween are not as straightforward or even as scary as you might think.

A Nightmare Before Christ
Most historians seem to agree that the origins of modern day Halloween can be traced back to the festival of Samhain, pronounced “sah-win”. This pre-Christian pagan ritual took place on November 1st in Celtic tribes and communities. Literally translated, the Gaelic word means: “Summer’s end.” The full traditions and practices of the festival are not fully detailed in any written historic records, but we do know a few things about the ancient autumnal holiday. It was communal, and it was a time when the Celtic people gathered to commemorate the end of summer and -like Ned Stark- prepare for the coming winter. The ancient Irish and Scottish literally celebrated it like summer’s funeral.

To them winter was a time when the land was dead. Samhain was the beginning of that death. So to the ancient Celts the night before, October 31st, was a time when the veil between life and death was at its thinnest, as the world transitioned from one state to the next. It was believed that during the night ghosts and spirits would walk the world. The people left out offerings for those spirits on their doorsteps. If anyone stepped outside their door they had to go masked, disguised a ghost so that none of the real ghosts would recognize them or make fun of them, presumably. Samhain also celebrated by bonfires and other activities.

The Catholic church at the time was always in the game of supplanting pagan holidays with their own -which is why Christmas takes place in December and not the spring. So under the direction of Pope Gregory III the church declared that November 1st was All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day. That meant October 31st became All Saints Eve, or more popularly known as All Hallows Eve. Because the human tongue is lazier than Garfield on a Monday, over time we shortened the name -like OMG, what do you mean? WTF. So the festival became known as Hallowe’en. The holiday was a hit throughout all of England and Ireland, but it would take a while to make its way to the New World.

Frankenstein’s Holiday
The original colonies were founded by the stoically overworked Puritans, who weren’t really into all this pagan nonsense about ghosts and spirits. Yet, as more and more people came over to the colonies the holiday become celebrated sporadically, but only through plays, dancing, or fortune telling. It wasn’t until the late 19th century when the potato famine drove thousands of Irish immigrants to the shores of the United States that the holiday really began to take hold in American culture.

The Irish, longing for the traditions of home, celebrated Halloween as a way of reconnecting with their Celtic roots. Traditions became modified in the melting pot of America and changed for practicality sake. For example, a lot of Halloween symbols we know today, such as spiders, black cats, and bats came from American ideas about witches and pagans. The Celtic bonfires of old became contained to single candles within pumpkins. In fact, the carving of jack-o-lanterns also changed. In Ireland people carved potatoes or turnips. Pumpkins don’t exist in the British Isles, but thanks to the Pilgrims they are the squash of choice for the American fall season -just ask any barista at Starbucks.

The figure of Jack O’Lantern himself also entered into American lore and become a big part of the holiday, mostly through retold tales, superstitions, and Tim Burton movies. As the story goes, a figure named Stingy Jack tricked the devil several times and made him promise not to claim his soul for hell after he died. However, old Lucifer got the last laugh, because Jack wasn’t allowed into heaven and the devil wouldn’t take him to hell so he was banished to wander the Earth. The Irish began referring to the figure as Jack of the Lanterns, and -again because the human tongue is an orange lasagna loving cat- it became Jack O’Lantern. The Irish and Scottish created turnip jack-o-lanterns to put in their windows on All Hallows Eve in order to scare away Stingy Jack  from entering their house, and rifling through their silverware drawer.

Trick or treating became a combination of pagan and Catholic traditions. “Guising” or “souling,” was where people would go around on All Souls Day, on November 2nd, from house to house offering to pray for the residences’ deceased loved ones. In exchange the homeowners would offer food or bread. However, for the Irish immigrant in the 19th century trick or treating was a lot more about the “tricking” than the “treating.” Quite frankly, we can understand that, we’ve seen Gangs of New York. If you were treated the way many Irish immigrants were treated you would probably want to egg a few houses too. Still Irish hi-jinks can only last for so long before the 1% wants in on the show, and that’s exactly what happened.

The Great Gatsby Pumpkin
It all started back in the roaring 20’s when Halloween parties became all the rage in high society. People with names like Rockefeller and Vanderbilt would dress up for a night of debauchery -which we can only assume included fast cars, loads of booze, and the secretly tortured soul of a a young millionaire just longing to be loved by a single woman. Unfortunately, on the lower rent side the cities, Halloween vandalism and property damage became a real problem. Cities like Los Angeles had to hire thousands of extra cops just to try and catch holiday pranksters. The situation only got more dire during World War II when Halloween tricks were no longer seen as kids being kids. Because of the scarcity of wartime resources, the property damage became known as an un-American affront to the war effort.

Towns did almost everything they could to downplay and discourage Halloween. Truman even tried declaring October 31st to be “Youth Honor Day,” but it didn’t fly with Congress -because even back then Congress was still Congress. Towns literally abolished the holiday, and national pleas were made to keep kids home on Halloween. Cities handed out free movie tickets, donuts, popcorn, and anything they could think of to keep kids from engaging in pranks, but it didn’t work. Kids still soaped windows, let air out of tires, rang doorbells at all hours of the night, and engaged in pretty much any classic prank you can think of and more. Even after the war ended and America was ready to return to festivities, Halloween still took a while to move nuisance to celebration.

In the late 1940’s the media and local governments decided to try and change Halloween by putting more emphasis on the “treat” instead of the “tricks.” However, many residents were still appalled at the fact that kids now came begging for candy or money. There were even reports of hostile residents, with one woman in Miami in 1950 handing out red-hot coins to children -because even back then Florida was still Florida. Police in North Carolina tried handing out 5,000 packages of cookies to kids to dissuade them from knocking on homeowner’s doors. However, those early attitudes would soon change thanks -in no small part- to a massive advertising campaign by the Mars Candy Company and other corporate outlets including television and cartoons. By the late 1950’s Halloween was no longer seen as kids begging, but as a fun holiday that every child deserved to take part in.

The Treehouse of Hornswoggling
By 1958 Halloween was a booming industry, quite literally. The baby boomers were growing and the new middle class -with their new disposable income- embraced the holiday. Parents started spending big bucks on candy, costumes, and parties. Food companies did not fail to notice the growing popularity of trick or treating and the potential it had for profits. Comapnies like Borden, National Biscuit Company, and even Philip Morris –smoke– began capitalizing on the new popular holiday. Companies made an estimated $300 million dollars on Halloween in 1965. It is a trend that has only been growing since, and is showing no signs of stopping.

Currently, Halloween is the second-most commercially profitable holiday behind Christmas. Americans spend an estimated $6 billion dollars each year including decorations, costumes, and candy. In fact, the candy industry rakes in an average of $2 billion alone during October. That is roughly 90 million pounds of chocolate. Somewhere along the line America made the transition from a quaint Irish tradition to a corporate money printing powerhouse, but that may not all be a bad thing. The continual growth and investment has assured that the holiday remains alive and vibrant in American culture. In fact, thanks to popular media and the exportation of American culture, the celebration of All Hallows Eve around the world -including in Ireland and Scotland- has become much more inline with American commercialized traditions than the older Celtic ones. In essence, it has become a uniquely American holiday.

The Millennial generation is going even further with Halloween and in recent years have raised it back to a holiday that can be enjoyed by adults as well as children. We nerds have never been shy about dressing up and acting like Jedi or Mutant Turtles or kids in general, so maybe it is not surprise that Halloween enjoys even more popularity among adults now than it did back in the 50’s or even in the 20’s. After all, we grew up enjoying this scary, spooky, and fiscally profitable holiday. It is only natural that we would want to keep celebrating it regardless of age. Maybe that is why it looks like Halloween may only be stopped, nevermore.

This past week, the nerd community saw the release of one of the most anticipated trailers of the year, Star Wars Episode VII. Unfortunately, almost immediately afterwards we also saw some Twitter trolls start the offensive hashtag: BoycottStarWarsVII. The campaign was supposedly created to stop Star Wars from pushing a evil multicultural agenda of tolerance and acceptance, because there are some people out there who just aren’t fans of Lando Calrissian, or nuanced and informed discussion. Those people are morons, but in a world where important conversations about identity, gender, and racial divides are conducted with hashtags, at least they have given us this opportunity to have a dialogue about multiculturalism in geekdom. A big part of the problem is the way that people of diverse -and especially African American backgrounds- are not always perceived as being stereotypically nerdy, but nothing could further from the truth.

Missing the Target with Stormtroopers
Let’s face it. The outrage over a black stormtrooper or the outrage over a multicultural Star Wars cast is completely ridiculous. It is the same kind of outrage we saw over the casting of Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch, the creation of Miles Morales, or any one of a thousands or so similar incidents. It is possible that sometimes nerds don’t mean to be racist, and they get so caught up in canonical in-fighting that they fail to realize what they are doing. It is also possible some people are just terribly ignorant.

However, the nerd community does not share the fault alone, as the media does not do a good job of embracing the idea of a black-nerd, or “blerd.” When Hollywood thinks of geeks, they think male, white, Asian, or even Indian. -Basically the cast of the Big Bang.- Welcome to the struggle of the blerd, but why is that the case? There have been plenty of famous black nerds, Raj in What’s Happening, Carlton in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and of course Steve “I am the goddamn nerd king” Urkel in Family Matters. Yet, Hollywood and geekdom in general still struggle with casting African American leads in science fiction, fantasy, and comic entertainment, partially because they fear the choice will put off those big juicy, money-spending, white male, geek crowds. Worse yet, when they finally do buckle and add a little variety, it is the members of that very same nerd community who are the first to rage or completely disregard such casting choices as nothing more than “political correctness,” and that has a lot do with our collective cultural stereotypes of the black community in general.

For this article, we are not looking to get into the complexities of black culture or how the media and white culture perceives black culture, or how black culture may perceive itself through the mirrored lens of the media. Mostly, because we don’t have the time, historical perspective, or proper doctoral degrees to really do the subject any justice. For now, let’s just say that living up to the media’s standards of being black in America means you often find yourself stuck along very rigid stereotype lines, and very few of the prescribed roles that the media assigns to African Americans involves being nerdy.

The Trials of Mace Windu
When a black character gets portrayed it is often along certain stock-lines such as a sports star, a rapper, or the bad ass. We love Mace Windu as one of the only good things about the prequels but he has an undeniable Samuel L. Jackson quality about him. Now that is not a bad thing, but not every black Jedi needs to be Shaft with a lightsaber. Why couldn’t Qui Gon Jinn or any other Jedi have been black too? Why do we only seem to get one representation at a time? By portraying African Americans so heavily along the roles of gang members, criminals, and even “the cool one” the media helps create the perception that these are really the only acceptable things young black men or women can be. So for years, the very idea of the black comic book nerd or the black science fiction nerd was forgotten. We’re not saying that they didn’t exist, just that they were not made visible by Hollywood for the viewing audience at large. In fact, when blerds were portrayed at all, many perceived those characters as “acting white,” because smart and uncool have not been the standard labels for young African Americans. So whenever we got the black nerd character, he was only ever portrayed as the person who was rejected by the show’s wider community. Both Carlton and Urkel started as comparison characters to the show’s “cooler” characters. In other words, they were not the characters that were “normal” or worth emulating. Even if they did eventually become some of the most popular characters on their respected shows.

Thankfully that perception is changing, slowly but surely. When you really open your eyes and take notice you see blerds everywhere, and it is amazing. People like Aisha Tyler, Damon Waynes Jr., Donald Glover and Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson have come to epitomize what it means to be black and nerdy. Characters such as Turk from Scrubs, Toofer from 30 Rock, Gus from Psych, and Troy from Community, helped to put forth new roles for African American nerds in Hollywood, even if their shows are now all canceled. No longer are these characters the punching bag or the annoying friend. They are funny, smart, and fun to be around. In the past decade it has started to become cool to like cartoons, comics, sci-fi,.and be a little weird. That has helped the blerd gain some prominence, but unfortunately even with these positive role models, studios, social media, and geekdom at large, still hesitate and debate over the merits of casting African Americans in starring roles.

Will Smith may have starred in Men in Black, Laurence Fishburne may have played Morpheus, Samuel L. Jackson may be Nick Fury, but the minute you cast an African American actor as a stormtrooper the Internet breaks. People will point to characters like Falcon, Zoe Washburne, Static Shock, Black Panther, Uhura, or Captain Benjamin Sisko as example of diversity in geekdom, and they would be right. However, those characters are just a good start, and not a justification for why we need an all white cast for Episode VII. Being a nerd should be about including all people and most importantly giving everyone a hero they can look up to and say, “He/she is like me. I can be a hero, a Jedi, a stormtrooper, a Galactic senator, or whatever I want to be,” because that has always been the magic and importance of our shared nerd heritage.

Gambling on Lando Calrissian
Many people will inevitably wonder why we need a separate label for a black nerd. Those will be the same people who will wonder aloud why February is Black History Month, or why “only” Black Lives Matter? What those people need to understand is that saying that Black Lives Matter is not the same as saying only black lives matter. It is a reminder that black lives matter too. Similarly, giving one the label of blerd does not mean they are separate from other nerds. As a race and as a minority African Americans have been poorly under-represented, or worst yet represented poorly through the lens of media stereotypes. The blerd label -much like the Black Lives Matters campaign- is way to remind us that African Americans are not just two-dimensional stereotypes. They are humans who are entitled to life, hopes, dreams, and the freedoms to swing a stick around their head and make lightsaber noises. We all need to remember that nerds and people come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors, and they all deserve respect.

Hollywood forgets that sometimes. It is easier to typecast people in certain roles, because it is accepted by the culture at large. Thus the fanboy backlash from casting an African American in a previously white role may sometimes force studios to temper otherwise multicultural and innovative choices. However, as easy as it would be to blame the media for the lack of ethnic diversity in the movies we love so much, it is not entirely their fault. They are far from perfect in fostering equal casting opportunities, but it starts with us, the fan community. As a famous leader once said. “The change you wish to see in the world, you must be, hmm.” Acceptance and equality start with each of us.

Blerd Lives Matter because all nerd lives and loves matter, regardless of color or creed. We need to encourage more diversity in our movies, television shows, comics, literature, and lives. As a community, we geeks and nerds need to start demanding a fair balance of positive racial representation, and more importantly we need to stop raging every time Hollywood makes a stormtrooper black. -It is a perfectly conical choice.- There will always be people out there with poorly conceived hashtags because they are filled with bigotry. Yet we cannot let them be the voice for our larger community. Geekdom is full of great and accepting people, and we have to make sure that the only minority we disregard is the minority of people who want to do nothing more than spread their message of fear, because that leads to anger, which leads to hate, which leads to a darker-side for us all.

It has finally arrived in blazing trail of flaming tire marks, October 21, 2015. This day has been hotly anticipated by the Internet, but much like October 20th or September 21st, the truth is that it is a day like any other. We look at the world that Marty McFly visited and part of us wonder why it is so different than our own? Where are our flying cars? Where are my dog-walking drones? And where are the hoverboards? (God knows we’ve tried.) The real fact of the matter is that the future is harder to predict than a comedy movie about about a time traveling DeLorean might have us believe.

Omen, Doc
It is important to remember that there was never a plan for Back to the Future II. It was the commercial success of the original movie that created the sequel, not some grand ideas about the future of the world. Most of the predictions made in that second movie were done for laughs, and yet it is ironic that many of the more comical predictions, like 80’s themed restaurants, where the things that actually came true. Back to the Future never claimed to be an authority on what was to come, and despite that it managed to get more than a few things right, maybe not in practice but principal. For instance, it predicted that Flea would still be around, and who would have guessed that was true.

Prophesizing about the future is hard. Even real scientists and their teenage sidekicks have made incredibly wrong predictions about what is to come, and for some incredibly believable reasons. For decades, whenever we got a new gadget or gizmo that we believed would be the “future of mankind,” our predictions often made that thing bigger and better going forward. After all, if computers were the wave of the future than surely they only continue to grow to the size of buildings? In the 90’s some people believed that arcades would become massive places of entertainment. Yet, we have learned in the past three decades that miniaturization was always more likely, computers got smaller and video games got personal. Even Doc Brown never guessed about things like the Internet, Wi-Fi, or smartphones, because he had never seen them before.

As humans we think we know what will happen because of a common confusion between prediction and hindsight. In 1932 Albert Einsteins  famously said, “There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.” At the time he was not wrong. It was just that his experiences and understanding of the world of the present made such an act seem feasibly impossible. We don’t have a flying DeLorean to help us see what is coming so we have to rely on our ideas and understanding of past patterns. It’s one of the reasons why we are always predicting doomsday around the next corner. Our personal experiences coupled with unrealistic feelings of nostalgia tell us how much worse things are now, so we must surely be heading for the end times?

ALMANACCultural Flux Capacitor
The changing potential of our future is not limited by our technological achievements. If anything culture is a far greater factor on the development of what our tomorrows look like. Back when George McFly was still busy being a creeper outside his Lea Thompson’s window, people believed that by 2015 we would have robots and easy-clean synthetic materials to help Mom out around the house. All those ideas about the technology that would exists to help out the “little woman” never really accounted for the fact that maybe wives and mothers didn’t want to spend their lives as homemakers. So instead we got technologies like dishwashers and microwaves, conveniences meant to help families with two working parents.

One of the most innovative and flashy technologies of Back to the Future II is the flying car. It’s the kind of invention everyone was waiting for, but it never happened. The truth is that we could probably make it happen with our current level of technology if we were so inclined, but we’re not. In a world of frivolous litigation, high insurance premiums, and fluctuating gas prices a flying car is completely impractical. Think of how much of a hassle it is when you bump another car at a traffic light. Now imagine that you are 2,000 feet up in the air and one or both cars  comes crashing out of the sky and lands on some poor guy’s deck. Somehow we don’t think that even 15 minutes will save you 15% or less on that kind of a fender bender. What the movie failed to guess at was the rise of the electric and self driven cars, which are far more likely in today’s world of climate change and overcrowded highways, because those have become our new priorities and/or frustrations.

Our lives and our culture change ever year. When you were a kid, maybe more than ever you wanted that one special toy, but of course it was way too expensive to get. Now that you are older and have an actual job with a paycheck you could easily afford that toy, but you have other priorities. -Food, rent, video games, etc- We are not saying these new priorities are wrong, just different, and as a kid you never really understood how your life was going to change as you got older. Society is like that, we are constantly changing along with our needs and wants. That is why the predictions of the 50’s are different than the predictions of the 80’s, which are different than the predictions of today. Our understanding and priorities keep shifting. -Though, truthfully, we at the NYRD would still argue that there is always time for toys.-

Marty, The Future Isn’t Written
The back and forth between culture and technology is not a one way street. They are two sides of a coin. In fact it is a little like time travel. When you alter or change the technology you run the risk of altering the culture and the course of our society going forward. So like old Biff and his now outdated sports almanac, every new technology or cultural shift has the potential to create ripple effects that change the trajectory of our future. For instance, in the movie we see that the Marty McFly of the future is still using fax technology in his home. Nowadays we look at that and laugh because, -apparently unlike the screenwriters- we know the true potential of The Internet and how it changed everything.

Nothing exists in a vacuum, which means that if you fail to predict one thing you have the potential of missing everything connected to it. Think about it. If you never conceived of the Internet, then you miss things like Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Napster. You also fail to foresee things like the collapse of the music industry, the changing nature of on-demand streaming, Uber and its potential impact on the transportation and car industries, and more. You would have no way of knowing how such things affect today’s youth culture or even geopolitical revolutions. The Internet has changed the way we think of communication, humor, language, navigation, and even knowledge itself. In turn our lives and goals have changed. We no longer leave work at work. Emails follow us around every where, which is something that -arguably- Back to the Future II actually did predict. We also now worry about government surveillance, maintaining online personas, taking pictures of our food, and about writing overly-detailed articles about 30 year old movie franchises and their correlations to modern culture. These are not concerns that Marty was thinking about back when he was jamming out to fresh beats of Huey Lewis and the News, but they are the realities of today.

It is also worth noting that art and movies like Back to the Future have a place in all this. Think about all the products we have developed in the past few years. Nike has created self-tying shoes, Pepsi even created Pepsi Perfect, and of course, there is our seemingly endless quest for hoverboards. Heck, we could write a whole separate article on the technology that inspired by Star Trek, Star Wars, and other science fiction and fantasy movies, comics, books, and television shows. Human beings are dreamers and we almost instinctively look to our fictions, such as Back to the Future, for inspiration. Part of science fiction and movies in general is to help us see worlds we can only dream of and then question how we can achieve them for ourselves.

In essence, we may not always be great about predicting the future, but Great Scott, are we amazing at creating stories that inspire it. So do not despair that we don’t have all the cool things of Marty McFly’s future. Instead, rejoice at what we do have and be thankful that we live in a world where we get to enjoy great works of fiction like Back to the Future, because that is certainly one thing you won’t find in Hill Valley.

This Sunday marks the start of the sixth season of AMC’s The Walking Dead. Rick and the group have come a long way over the past five seasons and this one promises to be no different. The wolves are not far. However, as much as we may sometimes simplify our favorite zombie series, there is a lot more going on in the world of the The Walking Dead than questions like, “What is the best way to kill a walker.”-Hint: It’s not fire. If you set a zombie on fire than all you have is a flaming zombie.- After all, surviving in the apocalyptic wasteland requires a lot of things, but sometimes you have to wonder, “Is morality one of them?”

Universal Sheriffism
Moral universalism  is the idea that there exists a right and a wrong outside of our own judgements and decisions. Basically, it means that the universe has a static right and wrong to it independent of human thought and circumstance. As the show opens, way back in season 1, this was Rick’s view of the world. To a young and beardless Sheriff Grimes there was a right and wrong, and he walked that line as best as he could. There is even a moment in that first episode when he apologizes to a zombie for what has happened to her. He then wastes a bullet from his gun to “kill” her out of “mercy.” These are the actions of a moral man. Rick also goes back for Merle after he was abandoned on the roof, and in season 2 he pleads and negotiates with Hershel to let them stay on the farm. The idea is that the ends could never justify the means.

Rick’s foil throughout the first two seasons is Shane, his best friend. Shane could be said to represent a sort of moral relativism. Shane’s morals are guided by the situation, the environment, and by his own need to survive. There are several types of relativisms and in the beginning we see Shane acting more in accordance with what you might call contractarianism, or social relativism. He bases his decisions and actions on what is right for the group, and what is dictated by the society he inhabits. It’s why he demands that they storm Hershel’s farm instead of asking to use it. The ends justified the means. However, as Shane becomes more isolated from the group he slides toward ethical egoism. Right and wrong become about what is best for him. It’s why he kills Otis and why eventually he plots to kill Rick.

You need to remember that both Rick and Shane were sheriffs, but maybe for different reason. As uniformed officers they were expected to uphold the law and to Rick that made sense. His universalism was reinforced by being and agent of justice. Shane, however, upheld the law because it gave him a position of power in a world of social relativism. As he saw it, the law dictated the morals of civilized society and he helped execute those rules. When the civilizations and its laws collapsed he abandoned his sheriff persona, as he believed those rights and wrongs no longer applied. Even physically he opted for more practical and comfortable clothing. On the other hand, Rick’s first action in the new world was to put on the uniform that he believed represented law and order, because his morals were universal. Civilization or no civilization he saw the uniform as representing something more. The Walking Dead has since taught us that law and the uniform do not represent morality, as demonstrated in the first half of season 5 by the rulers of the Atlanta hospital, but it is a lesson our favorite sheriff had to learn after many hard decisions.

Relative Beardism
Rick killed Shane because he had to. Morally right or wrong, the situation necessitated that Shane die and Rick live. There was a significance in that action. Rick changed forever after being forced to run a knife through his friend. It was not the first human he killed on the series but it was a threshold of sorts. In essence, he kill the character but the moral relativism of Shane endured, infecting Rick as sure as any zombie virus. Over the next three seasons we then watch as Rick’s actions change. He claimed dictatorship of the group, he turned away Tyreese’s group, and never hesitated to kill any cannibal or threat that came along. People were no longer someone he had to help. They were either part of his family, -not just Judith and Carl, but the whole group- or a threat to that family. You are with us or against us.

It is not a coincidence that as Rick’s actions became more extreme so did his look. He shed his sheriff’s uniform piece by piece, literally losing parts of himself as the series progressed. He did give his hat to Carl as if trying to bequeath his son his last bit of morality, and as he lost those ideas of law and order he also let his facial hair grow. It started as a dark stubble before becoming a respectable and even attractive beard. Yet, by the mid point of season 5 the beard and Rick’s actions had taken on a life of their own, obscuring the truth of what lay beneath. The thing about morality and beards is that if you let either of them become extreme you sometimes just come off looking like a crazy person, as Rick did when confronted by Aaron and his offer of haven in Alexandria. Michonne was right when she pointed out that they had been in the wild too long. Rick’s facial hair certainly seemed to agree.

Maybe that is why it was so shocking and so interesting when The Walking Dead once again presented us with a clean shaven and clipped Rick Grimes. Even better he was put back in a uniform and given back the responsibility of upholding law and order. Except this time, it was not the same. Those words meant different things in the new world. This time the dichotomy of the two law enforcement officers was not Shane and Rick, but Rick and Michonne. In that grouping Rick becomes the extreme one. There was no hesitation when he was finally let off the leash to kill Pete, Alexandria’s doctor and resident wife beater. The show was giving us a very stark symbol of how far Rick had come. Visually and even responsibility wise he appeared as the same person as he did from episode 1, but personality-wise he was still the survivor and the killer his experiences had made him. Yet, is he really a different person?

The Dilemma of Moral Compasses
The Walking Dead never gives us bad characters, not really. -The Governor had a small shred of humanity, the cannibals had their reasons- but we do get very good characters, Dale, Hershel, Tyreese, and even Noah and Beth. In some way they represented moral compasses or an innocence. They also did not last long. The argument can be made that Rick is the group’s ultimate moral compass, not  because he does immoral things to survive but because he still recognizes the immorality of them. Rick’s journey has been long and hard, but maybe he has not come as far as one might think. The difference between him and people like the Governor, Shane, or Gareth is that they have embraced their new ethical standing. They no longer feel the guilt that comes with the acts they commit, but most of Rick’s struggle comes from his unwillingness to do so. In essence, he is sacrificing his morality, and a part of him recognizes that, because to fully relinquish those old ideals would be to become something else.

In the world of The Walking Dead, it is not the zombies who are the monsters. Becoming a zombie means becoming a creature without thought. You have no desire, no honor code, no drive other than basic hunger. No, it is the people like Rick and the group who are left to worry about ideas of morality, heroes and monsters, and that is the point. It is no coincidence that every writer on AMC’s The Walking Dead is required to read psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. It is a narrative about a true-life account of a concentration camp survivor and how he must reconcile civilized morality with an uncivilized situation. How do we stay human in a dehumanizing world? What even is morality in a world without civilization?

In truth, all the characters follow some form of morality. Carol may be more on the “ends justify means” spectrum but she still feels for Jessie and her kids when they are faced with a problem she can personally relate too. Glenn finds it in himself to forgive a man who shot him and got Noah killed. Even Sasha with all her PTSD refuses to pull the trigger on Gabriel. We tend to label some characters as “moral compasses” because they embody a morality closer to what our modern society considers ethical, but maybe that says more about us than about Rick and the gang. Our concerns about what action is just or right are not always the same as the show’s characters. They do what they need to in order to survive. That means the real judgment of morality is purposely left for us to judge, because what would any of us do in their situation?

They say you should never talk about religion in polite company, so instead let’s talk Star Wars. For all their flaws, the prequels reveal something that is worth considering about the Jedi Order. It gives us a glimpse of a rigid dogmatic organization that finds itself being tested by new challenges and new ideas. So much so, that when the Jedi do eventually fall to Palpatine’s machinations, you have to wonder if it is not so much because of the careful planning of Darth Sidious, but more because of the Jedi’s failure to adapt and change with the times.

Currently, there are 804 million declared Christians in the Americas, which is the largest Christian population on any continent, but religion all over the West, especially in the eastern United States, has been in a steady decline for decades. Yet, for this past week it has been impossible to get anywhere in New York City as the streets have become clogged with faithful followers trying to catch a glimpse of his holiness, Pope Francis, as he completes the American Run in less than 12 parsecs, in what we are going to call Pope-a-palooza??

Pope-Wan Kenobi
All week New York and the east coast have been bracing for the Pope’s visit, like an approaching Imperial invasion. Streets are being blocked off, stadiums are being prepared for capacity seating, and in Philly 4.5 miles of Center City are being cordoned in preparation for Sunday mass. Catholics and non-catholics alike are clamoring for a view of the Pope, even at a time when according to a Pew Research Survey, the normally steady ranks of American Catholics have dropped by 3 million followers in the past 7 years. It could be that there is still some tendency in us all to recognize religious authority, even if we do not always believe in religion?

After all, after the destruction of the Jedi Order, Masters Yoda and Kenobi no longer had a basis for any sort of political power. Yet, both Luke and the audience found themselves in awe -and not just because of their super-mind powers. According to Dr. Andrew Newberg, the human brain might be programmed for religion. A common thread among mystical, spiritual, and religious practices is that for people who are engaged in them there is a tangible and powerful emotion created as all the areas of the brain work together. This Jedi mind trick, combined with cultural pressures, scientific uncertainties, and good-old fashioned superstition, may contribute to why we still flock to see an old man in a funny hat, and why we can claim it as a tangible “religious experience.” A part of us is still hardwired to believe in “hokey religions,” -which may or may not be a match for a good blaster. Yet, we are also hardwired to reproduce as much and as often as possible, and according to a myriad of surveys both birthrates and religious attendance are declining.

Order 666
External forces caused the downfall of the Jedi, but there was evidence of cracks in their organization beforehand. Anakin Skywalker, for instance, was driven to do what he did partly because of the intractable rules of the organization. The Jedi have rules against their knights being able to marry or fall in love, much like another unreasonable monolithic powerful religious organization you might know. Of course, Anakin was also a bit of a jerk, so maybe he is not the best example. Count Dooku, however, was a well respected Jedi Master, and according to Wookiepedia he lost his faith in the Order after a disastrous battle he was forced to fight with no support from the Jedi Council. After leaving the Order he fell to the Darkside, but there is plenty of other evidence in Star Wars lore that the rigid Jedi doctrine drove as many people to the Darkside as it raised people to the Light.

The decline of religion in our times is not a result to some hidden order imprinted in the DNA of clone troopers, and yet attendance for organized religions, and Christianity especially, are at all time lows. A 2009 American Religious Identification Survey found that 86% of American adults identified as Christian in 1990 but only 76% did so in 2008. In England, the number of Anglicans -THE Church of Britain- fell from 40% in 1983 to 27% in 2004. Some estimates say that by 2033 the Anglican Church will be gone completely, which may explain why so many English have started listing their religion as Jedi, on their census surveys.

America has always been something of a Death Star of Christianity, an impregnable bastion of religion the size of a small moon. However, we still have one or two exposed thermal exhausts ports which are proving to be an undoing. Millennials are becoming less and less affiliated with organized religions, with 34% of people between the ages of 25 and 34 no longer associated with a church, mosque, or temple. For young adults, twice as many people, between the ages of 18 and 22, said they never attended religious services in the 2010s, as opposed to the same age groups in the 1970s. 75% more 18 year olds said that religion was “not important at all” in their lives as opposed to forty years ago. In fact, when you break it down by numbers, 23% of all Americans no longer affiliate with an organized religion, which has surpassed the number of Catholic Americans (21%) and mainstream Protestants (15%). Even “spirituality” has declined, with 20% fewer college students claiming they are spiritual as opposed to the same age group in the 1990’s.

Lightsaber Chart

The Apathy Strikes Back
There are many reasons for this decline, and most people’s knee jerk reactions may be to blame technology, or Dark Lords of the Sith, or “these padawans today,” and though some of those things may be a factor they are just part of a larger picture. Religion suffers in societies that have a high value on individualism. Like the Jedi Order, adherence to organized religion requires that followers put their faith in the larger organization and follow the rules and tenants set before them. If you have someone who thinks and acts as an individual, such Anakin, then the entire structure is threatened. In essence, individuality is a mark of the Sith. The Jedi believe in freedom, but not freedom of thought or belief for their followers. The Jedi philosophy sees individualism as chaos, and the church is no different.

Religion requires respect for authority, but that is also at an all time low and for various reasons. After all, it is hard to have respect for the authority of an organization that puts itself above others. Religions and the Jedi separate the chosen from the non-chosen, the Jedi from the non-Jedi. Religion promotes a specialness that is not always attainable by those who do not have the right Midi-chlorian count. That also means that religion does not have any respect for the rule of civil law, because it was made by non-special people. In Revenge of the Sith, the Jedi literally plot to take over the government when they discover Palpatine is a Sith Lord. Mace “L.” Windu says that the Jedi need to cease control of the government to ensure a “smooth transition,” because obviously it can’t be left to lowly unspecial people to handle the job. Only the chosen are capable of creating a stable rule of law.

This arrogance combined with a rising level of individualism has driven people away from organized religion. Baby Boomers, Generation Xer’s, and Millennials have all shown an increased focus on the self over the community, which has led to less interest in social organizations, apathy for the political process, and feelings of detachment from the community and the church. Of course, it has also led to a higher tolerance of diversity, respect for others’ opinions, and the ability to question the status quo. Not all those things are good, but neither are they all bad, but this rise of individualism has fueled by a distrust of the government, politicians, the media, the medical establishment and other large organizations, the church included. Now, thanks to technology we are connected like never before, and this democratization of communication and information has taken even more power out of the hands of religious and secular rulers. Social media has even given us a platform to proclaim our  own specialness, outside of the context of being a member of a chosen people. Yet, all of this has happened before… a long time ago.

The Great Force Awakening
Whenever it seems that religion is in decline some new evangelical movement whips up and reignites the passions of the American Christian. In the past, America has had Three Great Religious Awakenings, plus several other smaller revivals, because like the swing of a lightsaber, growing religious apathy cuts both ways. It may cause more people to leave the church, but it often invigorates those that remain. That is why, unlike other denominations, evangelical Protestants have experienced less decline and even net gains in some areas between 2007 and 2014. In fact, for every person who has left an evangelical Protestant denomination 1.2 people have converted or joined, slowing their decline from 26.3% to 25.4% in the past seven years, which maybe less of a revival and more of a cauterizing of a wound.

Any new Great Awakening would need to come with compromise. Religion -and Christianity especially- are now seen by many as narrow-minded and even bigoted. Rules about homosexuality, science, premarital sex, the changing nature of the family, and other modern concepts have left them behind. A need to adhere to past dogma has hindered many people’s enthusiasm for organized religion, especially in Catholicism. Religion would need to become more humble and more accepting, because when an organization becomes only about black and white, sin and saviors, Darkside and Lightside, it also becomes about immutable beliefs that make it unable to accept change.

Revenge of the Secular
There is a moment in Revenge of the Sith when Yoda is fighting Palpatine, and in the movie version it appears as if Yoda just gives up and abandons the fight. However, in the novelization the reader learns that Yoda has a revelation during the battle. He realizes that he and the Jedi Order cannot win, because unlike the Sith they failed to adapt with the times. The Jedi were stuck in practices and ideas that were no longer relevant to a modern galaxy. The Sith on the other hand had changed and adapted, and they become stronger for it.

We cannot predict what the next episode of this saga will be, whether organized religion will go the way of Jar Jar Binks, or if the Force Awakens. “Clouded the future is,” but there is evidence that much like Yoda, Pope Francis, has come to understand the downfalls of his organization. The Pope has become known as a reformer. There are hints that his Holiness sees that the times are changing and is trying to get the Catholic Church to change with them. It is not about abandoning core values -service, forgiveness, love, generosity- but core dogma. The Pope has touched the excitement of the religious and non-religious because he does things that are both more humble and more Christian than any Pope in modern memory.

Maybe that is why so many people are excited to see him, and also why we had to sit in traffic this morning.

There is something about the self expression of a tattoo that helps to show our modern individuality, beliefs, loves, and more; and if you are anything like the majority of the staff here at The NYRD -except for Todd- than you too, dear reader, may be sporting some ink. Your mark of independence, creativity, or passion may be in some hidden or not so hidden place on your body, but have you ever wondered why so many people nowadays seem driven to tarnish their perfect skin with poorly drawn tigers or mistranslated Chinese writing? All we know is that we are not alone, because this modern trend is a surprisingly timeless human trait.

Tit for Tats
According to a 2012 Harris poll 1 in 5 Americans, roughly 21% of adults in the United States, have at least one tattoo on their body. According to a Pew Research poll that number jumps to 40% when looking at young adults between the ages of 18 and 29. Tattooing is becoming more popular than Robert Downey Jr. holding ice ream, and for a few reasons. First, tattoos are becoming more and more acceptable as celebrities, athletes, and other notable figures proudly display their ink on the big and small screens. Secondly, the Millennial Generation -who is constantly rated as more confident, connected, and more willing toward self expression- has made tattooing a part of the youth culture. Lastly, and due to all these factors, the stigma of tattoos have lessened over the years. It is not gone completely, but it no longer seems that ink is just for sailors and Sith warriors.

One tattoo artist we talked to explained how he got his start marking gang members and bikers in a dingy ink den on the wrong side of Brooklyn. Originally those were his only customers, but now his clientele are mostly young adults who wear cardigans instead of leather jackets, and get tats of Kermit the Frog instead of skulls and daggers. Of course, this also reflects a bigger trend going on in NYC and around the country. The landscape of Brooklyn has changed, with many neighborhoods going from hard-luck to hipster paradise. Gangs still exist, but they are no longer the only ones who brand themselves to affiliate with a group or ideal. Geeks, jocks, families, chess clubs, and more use tattoos to proudly display who and what they are.

We could argue a correlation between the rise of social media and the popularity of tattoos, and certainly our new cultural of unabashed social sharing and connectivity has added to the popularity of body art. We are more willing to share who we are with friends, family, and strangers, but there is more to it than that. When you look at history, this urge to carve out a visible personification for ourselves with tattoos proves to be quite a universal human tendency.

Faded Ink
Tattoos have been a part of human culture for more than 5,000 years. There has even been evidence of tattooing dating back to 6,000 BCE, with the discovery of a man sporting a thin pencil mustache tattooed on his upper lip, thus also proving that both tattoos and hipsters are apparently timeless. Ötzi the Iceman was discovered in the early 90’s preserved in ice. He lived around 3,300 BCE, had more than fifty tattoos on his body, mostly small vertical lines that may have been used for therapeutic reasons. Every human culture has had a history of decorating their bodies for various reasons, spiritual, religious, love, war, etc. There is evidence that Moses might have had a tattoo, despite what the Bible said on the subject. Even Christian Crusaders often got the Jerusalem Cross marked on their body so that if they died in battle they could be identified and be given a Christian burial. Today, cultures, such as the Maori in New Zealand, still use tattoos to commemorate their heritage and to bridge the gap between their ancestral roots and the modern world.

There is no one true origin for the tradition of tattooing, but we do know where the English word for the practice comes from. Tattoo or Tattow is an Anglicized version of the word Tatau, a Polynesian word from Tahiti. It was brought back to the west by English explorer Captain James Cook, who is mostly remembered for his misunderstanding of the climate of Australia and his misunderstanding of the patience of Hawaiians. In Tahiti, Cook encountered heavily tattooed men and women, and because of his stories and the ink that his crew returned with from their Polynesian vacation, we got the modern word of tattoo.

Also thanks to Cook’s discovery and the stories he and others like him brought back from their voyages, tattoos became all the rage in Victorian society. Most people tend to think of Jane Austen and her ilk as a tame repressed group, but the truth is that many Victorians had at least one tat. Even Queen Victoria was believed to have a tattoo of a Bengal tiger fighting a python. Of course, most Victorians’ ink was hidden by frilly dresses, petticoats, and pantaloons, and there were always some that looked down on the fashion trend, but it was common practice of upper society at the time. It was also said that Winston Churchill’s mother had a rebelliously visible tattoo of a serpent… Hail Hydra.

Cover Ups
Unfortunately, we cannot ignore the darker side of tattoos. Many people were inked or branded unwillingly throughout human history. Geeks and Romans tattooed slaves and mercenaries so as to discourage them from deserting or fleeing their masters. Convicts in Japan were tattooed to mark their lowered status in society, even as far back as the 7th century. Curiously, this could also be why today the Japanese still look down on tattoos as something worn only by gang members and criminals. Most sadly, of course, the Nazis tattooed Jewish and other prisoners in concentration camps with numbers so they could easily identify stripped and destroyed corpses.

Of course, over the years some people have re-appropriated those symbols. The Japanese convicts turned their shameful marks into the elaborate body art which marked their strength and loyalty to the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. Many descendants of concentration camp survivors have tattooed their ancestors numbers on their bodies as a way of remembering and honoring the past. These marks of shame find new meaning and acceptance in the modern world, but really that is what tattoos are. They are a way to memorialize what has come before and celebrate who we are as individuals.

Tattoos are permanent adornments, remnants from a different time in our life that stay with us. Like us they may grow and wear out, and their meaning may change over time. We may look on them with fondness or embarrassment, but there is not denying that they become a part of us. Many people use them to commemorate a milestone, honor a loved one, or even just because it makes them feel good. Regardless of the reasons, the marks help define us, not just to the outside world but to ourselves. Tattoos are not something new and they are certainly not something to be looked down on. In our modern world of Twitter and Facebook, tattoos help us to literally wear our hearts on our sleeves, or our dragons, our crossbones, our Superman symbols, or even that unicorn we got by mistake that one time, which we don’t ever talk about.

Being a superhero is a tough and sometimes thankless job: fighting crime, battling super-villains, and constantly updating the look of your costume for every new movie. It’s even worse for LGBTQ heroes and heroines who we have yet to be featured in any of the blockbuster movies that have graced the screen in the recent decade. The small screen of television has been only a little better about featuring bisexual heroes, mostly women, but certainly not as progressive as many might like. There is a definite job discrimination going on in Hollywood against superheroes of the LGBTQ community, but maybe that just means that they are following the trends set by the rest of the country.

It is important to portray a diverse range of superheroes in blockbuster movies, not just minority or positive women heroes, but LGBTQ as well. Why is that important- which we hear you ask with our super-hearing? Because according to the Harvard Political Review, superhero movies promote and enforce social norms and roles. Due to their prominence in our cultural these modern myths consciously and subconsciously dictate the way we see ourselves and the world. Diversity among our heroes is important, and Marvel, DC, and all the rest have begun to get better about positively portraying racial and gender diversity, and Aquaman. -He has long been a target for ridicule and discrimination, but that is for another article.- However, even as LGBTQ characters are on the rise in other media and films, they are still curiously absent from the superhero movie genre. In fact, more often than not, the entire idea of homosexuality is glanced over or ignored, much like LGBTQ issues in the non-pulp fiction world.

The Unambiguously Gay Discrimination
Now we, here at The NYRD, have talked about gender identity and sexuality before, but we did not get to cover some of the legal issues and challenges that face members of the LGBTQ community. You see, even as marriage discrimination in the United States is finally at an end for gay and lesbian couples, their struggle for equality is far from over. Much like a super-villain that refuses to stay dead -even after we clearly saw him fall into that vat of acid,- discrimination always seems to return in new and different ways. The sad part is that even though same-sex couples can now legally get married, they can also still be legally fired from their place of employment due to their sexuality. Only 19 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have laws that make it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based upon gender identity and sexuality. Other states have executive orders or bans on sexual discrimination, but they are not always enough. Additionally, according to the ACLU 31 states have no explicit employment protections for transgender people. If an LGBTQ person is fired in one of those state they have no recourse fight back, save for vigilantism, but we don’t endorse that.

Last year, President Obama signed an executive order that gave employment protection to LGBTQ employees of Federal contractors, and the EEOC helps protect the rights of Federal employees, but those rights do not always extend to private sector or public state-level workers. Even worse the order could be easily overturned by President Lex Luthor or whoever will be sitting in the chair next. A federal law to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add gender identity and sexual orientation to the list of protected classes would be the most effective in preserving LGBTQ civil rights, but any attempts to do so or create laws that protect LGBTQ workplace employment, housing, credit, education, federal financial assistance, jury service, and/or public accommodations usually ends up deader than Uncle Ben on a bad night.

This is a surprising statistic considering 69% of Americans favor laws to protect LGBTQ civil rights, and 75% of Americans currently -and incorrectly- believe that it is illegal nationwide to fire someone based upon their sexuality or gender identity. Yet, in Congress laws like the 2007 Employment Nondiscrimination Act, or the more recent 2013 Employment Non-Discrimination Act, have either been killed in the Senate or refused to be heard in the House, respectively. This means that Senators and Representatives have actively ignored or struck down modern laws which would keep actual human beings from being fired or discriminated against due to biological urges and factors they have no control over. We are going to hum the old Batman theme song while we let that idea sink in for you… Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da… Batman…

Extra…ño
A lot of the resistance by Republican Senators and Congressmen comes from the fact that they are beholden to a small religious subset of people who mistakenly believe that granting LGBTQ members their civil rights will somehow impinge on religious rights and freedoms. This sort of backwards argument can be seen most recently when Ellen Page interviewed Presidential hopeful, Ted Cruz, all while he his holding someone’s meat.

The interview -as frustrating as it seems- actually illuminates the thought process of a lot of the ultra-religious right. There is a victim mentality, as if people who are religious believe they will lose their freedom to fire an employee or refuse to sell services or goods to customers based upon their religion. Ted Cruz tried turning the infamous case of the Christian baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple on it’s head. However, the main argument of that case is less valid than Clark Kent’s birth certificate. It tends to focus on the wrong elements, as if it exists in a vacuum. Even more importantly, a Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that “the act of designing and selling a wedding cake to all customers, free of discrimination, does not convey a celebratory message about same-sex weddings likely to be understood by [a reasonable observer.]”

That is really the crux of the argument against this supposed religious persecution of Christians by the LGBTQ community. After all, what if that Christian baker refused to make a bar mitzvah cake or a cake for Ramadan? -Also, yes we know that Ramadan is a month of fasting, but they can still have cake after sunset. Ms. Marvel would.- The Colorado court’s ruling basically says that offering your goods, services and/or employment opportunities to another human being, is not the same as participating or even endorsing that person’s lifestyle or religion. A reasonable observer would conclude that a business that bakes cakes for all occasions, would reasonably bake a cake for a wedding, gay or otherwise.

Now, some will always try to argue the extremes, but there are extremes for every circumstance. Maybe a Jewish baker should not be forced to make a swastika cake for a the Red Skull’s birthday party. Maybe you can fire someone for dangerous sexual behavior, but the problem with applying those arguments in this situation is that you are equating an LGBTQ person with extreme or deviant behavior. Being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer is not any of those things, and most people, even many religious ones, agree with that stance. According to the Public Religion Research Institute 60% of all American believes that businesses cannot deny service to gay or lesbian people. In fact, even 42% of white Evangelical Protestants believe that gay and lesbian people have a right to be provided professional services, by Christian businesses regardless of religious idolatry, but in the end it still comes down to perception.

Midnighter at the Apollo
In some ways we have come far from the old stigma of gay and lesbian stereotypes. However, there is always more work to do. Being lesbian or gay still holds a connotation of being something other than normal. For a man it is equated with being effeminate, or for a woman it means being butch or manly. Our cultural norms, on the other hand, still lend themselves toward the ideals of the knight and the princess. Popular culture, in particular, still likes its “men to be men” and “women to be princesses-in-need-of-recusing-by-men-who-are-men,” and a lot of LGBTQ issues and heroes suffer because of that.

For example, when notable bisexual hero John Constantine, appeared in his own short-lived -though well regarded- network series, the decision was made to make the character straight, because it was believed a bisexual titular hero on TV might be too hard to handle for viewing audiences. As opposed to all the black occult magic and demon killing, which they thought we could handle just fine. The sad part is that Constantine’s sexuality was never a big part of the hero’s identity in the comics. It is barely touched upon, and it would have been too easy for NBC to not even confirm or deny it on the show. Instead, they “straight-washed” him much to the dismay of many LGBTQ nerds and geeks, and the problem is even worse on the big screen.

In the world of superhero films, gay heroes simply do not exist, but a one would go a long way to further normalizing LGBTQ issues in the public arena. Additionally, this obvious omission in superhero diversity is puzzling, because comics have already stepped up to the plate and tackled -sometimes very poorly- issues of gay, lesbian, and transgender characters. Northstar, was Marvel’s first superhero to come out of the closet, and despite his flaws -he’s Canadian- he is still considered to be one of the most respectable representations of a gay hero in comic history. He was even recently married in a ceremony in Central Park, and has faced a number of real and believable issues due to his homosexuality. His status as a member of the LGBTQ community does not define him as a hero, but it is a part of who he is. Also, Northstar is not alone. There are more and more LGBTQ superheroes in comics. So, how long will it be until we see one in theaters?

Bad News for Batwoman
Unfortunately, there is no hope on the horizon. Kevin Feige, in a very roundabout way, basically confirmed that there could be a gay superhero one day in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but probably not anytime soon. Iceman of the X-Men has been confirmed as being gay in several alternate alliterations in the comics, but it seems like his movie counterpart is straight and crushing on Sookie Stackhouse. Thus, barring some kind of extreme bromance situation at the end of Batman V. Superman, it seems unlikely they we will be seeing an LGBTQ superhero soon, which is a missed opportunity. Tackling these sorts of issues will be what helps move the superhero genre from frivolous popcorn movie to a forum for lasting impact.

Life and art always imitate one another, and if we are not willing to see gay as heroic than it is no wonder that they are still being discriminated against in the workplace and in our communities. Imagine how empowering it would be for a thirteen year old boy or girl, dealing with issues of sexuality, to be able to look up to a superhero and realize that being gay or lesbian does not mean you can’t be the hero, or a real man, a real woman, or anything you want to be in this world. After all, if we can’t get an LGBTQ person a job saving the world, than how can we ever expect them to get fair employment anywhere else?


Video courtesy: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8p1vwvWtl6T73JiExfWs1g

This past week Hayley Atwell, star of Marvel’s Agent Carter was asked by fans whether she would consider a role on Doctor Who. Atwell, responded that she did not just want “a” role but “the” role of the Doctor herself. Of course, this was just a one-off-non-binding comment made on Twitter, but because this is the Internet it went viral and people weighed in on both sides of the old argument, “Should Doctor Who ever be a woman?” It is an argument almost as old as, “Can you call the character Doctor Who, considering his name is actually just The Doctor?

There are a fair share of naysayers, so called purists, but hidden among all this debate is a larger issue. In a world where everyday we are becoming more and more accepting of a fluid definition of gender identity, is it really too much to ask that our favorite Time Lord become a Time Lady?

Breaking the Silence in the Library
In order to fully talk about the subject of transgender and gender identity, there are certain aspects that we need to discuss. Think of this like the birds and the bees, except for the fact that that is a terrible example, because birds and bees are creatures driven by biological instinct and human beings have so much more going on than biology.  In fact, even picking just two animals skews the example. According to findings published by the University of Vienna, gender identity is not a duology. It exists on a spectrum of choices and feelings. So maybe we should start talking about the Bird, the Bees, the Grasshoppers, the Squirrels, and the Daleks, because at least that would be an analogy heading in the right direction. So as the Doctor’s greatest enemies might say, “EDUCATE!”

Biological gender is the gender we are all born with, male, female, or Zygon, but it is only one factor of our identity. Like those Zygons we have the choice of who we become. Gender roles are the roles that society expects of people based upon their biological gender. For instance, you might be expected to be a Time Lord if you possess a… sonic screwdriver… if you know what we are saying. However, gender identity, is the gender that individuals associate with themselves outside their biological and societally assigned gender roles. Those are the three big terms but there is a lot more at play, for example gender expression and sexual orientation also play a factor in determining someone’s identity, but there are no hard a fast rules about correlations between them. You could be a biological man, who identifies as a woman, but expresses himself as a man, and has sexual urges toward both males and female. We call that type of person a Captain Jack.

Gender identity is not a black and white issue. It’s about reds, and blues, and purples, and more all mixing together in a wibbley wobbly mess of stuff to make an identity that is as unique as the person themselves. Even better this is a concept that is becoming more understood and more accepted than ever before. Now, we are not saying that everything is Roses and Amy Ponds… but with high profile transgender celebrities, such as a certain ex-Olympian/the ex-worst father on reality TV, the general public and the mainstream media are coming to see the real fluidity of gender identity. So how can geeks and Whovians, in particular, be any less accepting?

The Doctor’s Life
Yes, the Doctor has always been a white male throughout the entirety of his twelve-ish regenerations, -fourteen if you count John Hurt and David Tennant twice,- but does that mean he has to stay male for all of them? After all, there have been made mentions of Time Lords who have swapped gender roles, most notably the Corsair, mentioned in Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece The Doctor’s Wife. The Doctor refers to his many incarnations as both him and her, even adding “Oh, she was a bad girl.” It is a statement which might also imply that there was something more going on between the Doctor and the Corsair during those periods when he was a she, which also implies a general sort of casual acceptance of this gender fluidity by the Doctor. Most recently, the classic Doctor Who villain, the Master even returned as a woman. All of this seems to suggest that the swapping of Time Lord genders seems to be neither impossible or even socially taboo.

Many fans have done a study on the subject and what they have found seems to indicate that most Time Lords have a biological gender. For instance, the Doctor is biologically male. After all, if regeneration was truly random, than the Doctor would have a 50/50 shot of being a man or a woman on his/her next go around, but that has yet to pan out. However, with these instance of gender swaps among Time Lords, it seems possible that, much like humans, biological gender may not influence one’s gender identity. Some fans believe that in order to accomplish a gender swap a Time Lord would need to have a controlled regeneration under a specific set of circumstance, but what if the answer is simpler than that? What if sometimes a Time Lord just feels like being another gender when it comes time to regenerate? It is more likely that on Gallifrey gender roles are not so rigid as they are on Earth, and if someone wants to spend a few hundred years as the opposite gender of their original biologically assigned sex, than there is nothing wrong with it. Unfortunately, as far as skin color goes, we still have no answer for that mystery.

Every time it is announced that there will be a new Doctor, the Internet becomes a buzz with rumors that it will be a woman, even before there was an Internet. The buzz has been going on since the departure of Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor, and yet every time the Doctor becomes another white male with a British accent. Have they ever considered maybe trying out an American one, possibly a New York or Boston accent? What about Welsh? Regardless, in a world where gender fluidity is becoming more understood and accepted, maybe it is time to start rethinking this reoccurring trend in the longest-running science-fiction/fantasy series in human history.

After all, Doctor Who has stayed progressive on certain issues, often priding itself on its strong female companions, yet there seems to be one glass ceiling even the TARDIS cannot break. In a world of Caitlyn Jenner, same-sex marriage, and more, now is the time to seriously reconsider who and what our thirteenth Doctor will be.

The Girls Who Have Waited
If you are taking suggestions, we are solidly throwing our hats in the corner of team Atwell, as her personality, range of acting, action chops, humor, and British accent, make her a perfect candidate for the job. For a show that prides itself on its innovate and creative stories, characters, and themes, this has been a change that has been a long time coming.

Yes, there will always be the complainers and the critics, but those exist no matter what. Whether you go from a 30-something Matt Smith to a 50-something Peter Capaldi or to a 30-something woman, the Internet will continue to be the Internet. More to the point, the arguments against such a change tend to hinge on ideas of tradition, or on skepticism that a woman could even do the job. Even worse, many complain that the dynamic between the companion and the Doctor would be ruined. These types of arguments are no better than many of the arguments thrown against gay marriage or the transgender population in general. Yes, change can be scary, but it can also be wonderful and amazing and open up new possibilities that can take life and 50-year old sci-fi properties in surprising new directions.

Even the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison has gone on record as being against the gender swap saying, “To have a female [Doctor] would be like having a female James Bond. It would be a rather odd thing.” Of course, we would also have to disagree with him about a female James Bond, or a black one for that matter, but that is an article for another day. Traditions are great when they are used to bring people together, but when they start to be used as justifications for discrimination or as a roadblock to progress, it might be time to reevaluate them and take a closer look at the people who are standing on the outside.

The transgender, pangender, cis-gender, and other gender communities are as vastly different and diverse as birds or bees or Sontarans. In the end, we are all our own creatures with out own gender identities, and we all have the right to chose who we get to be. Ultimately, that sounds very much like the moral of a Doctor Who episode, and of the Doctor himself. So we have to ask, if gender fluidity is good enough for one of our greatest nerd heroes, shouldn’t it also be good enough for us?

Geronimo.

For years now there have been an injustice committed upon a portion of the populace that is very near and dear to our hearts, women… nerd women more specifically. There is a meme circling around the Internet called “Nerd Girl.” The basic joke of the meme is that there is this young teenage girl wearing big glasses with the word “nerd” written on her hand, and it is quite obvious she is not really a nerd. The general idea of the meme is that the pictured girl a is a “poser” who is trying to fit in with geek culture, but doesn’t quite understand it.

Meme Girls
tumblr_lzebworl0T1r4x8u1o5_500The meme itself is harmless, but there is an underpinning to it that is not so harmless. The Gamer Gate controversy was only the tip of a much larger and sinister iceberg. It may not surprise people to find out that there is a large amount of nerd-rage directed at women. There is a growing sentiment that most geeky girls are really nothing more than “posers,” much like the girl represented in the meme. This rage has been directed at women of all corners of geekdom, gamers, internet posters, and especially  female cosplayers. Many self-proclaimed, “true” nerds seem to think that these women are merely exploiting the geek culture to get attention and maybe even a little camera time.

Is it possible that there are people who are willing to fake an interest to get a little fame, of course. That is not the issue of the argument. After all, there are more than a few men who are guilty of committing such sins both in and outside of nerd culture. This argument is not so much about anything the female in question did, but is driven by the simple fact of how our society tends to treat members of the fairer gender. For a very succinct and offensive example, check out comic artist, Tony Harris’ Facebook rant on the subject.

This type of behavior and the attitude is the lowest denominator of prejudice. Nerd culture should never be about discriminating anyone for their race, religion, creed, species, sexuality, or sci-fi preferences, and especially never for their gender. Geeks began as the ultimate outcast group, and now that the culture has arisen to a higher level of visibility and prominence among mainstream culture, it would seem disingenuous to start being picky and discriminatory about who gets to call themselves a nerd, or a geek, or whatever.

A Nerd by Any Other Name
There is no requirement to claim those labels. All it ever takes is a willingness to have fun and appreciate the things that so many other geeks share, and maybe a willingness to admit that George Lucas isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. Women geeks have just as much enthusiasm and a love for the culture as their male counterparts. The very thing Mr. Harris and others berate cosplaying women for, is actually an act that takes a lot of commitment. How many of you men are willing to dress up in skimpy and uncomfortable outfits to be half-naked in possibly winter time conditions? As for everything else, why should anyone care if not everyone gets all the in-jokes, or reads the right comics, or even does or does not care for anime. Geekdom is not some kind of secret society, even if at times it can sometimes appear as one to the uninitiated.

Geek culture was founded on the principals of equality. Granted, our heroines are often a bit exaggerated in the T&A sections, but it is still a culture that has come a long way to acknowledge the strength of women as a whole. Compare Princess Leia Organa with Bella Swan from Twilight. Ultimately, both can represent the woman who needs saving, the damsel in distress, and both fall for men that are probably more rough and tumble than one might expect. Yet, that is where the comparison ends. Bella basically proves an inability to do anything that shows any sort of strength, self-confidence, or initiative throughout the entire book series. Even when she gains sparkly vampire powers, she is still nothing more than a weak woman caught up in the events and in the shadow of Edward Cullen’s life. Princess Leia on the other hand starts her series as an important leader of the Rebel Alliance, a Rebel spy, a marksman, and by the time of Return of the Jedi it’s she who must rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt. In the now defunct Expanded Universe she becomes a Jedi Knight, a Chief of State of the New Republic, and a mother. Even her relationship with Han always seems to be on her terms. Leia is still a woman, and a nerd-sex icon in a metal bikini, but she as strong or stronger than any other character out there, man or woman. This comparison is even more striking when you think that Leia was conceived in 1977, and Bella was created in 2005. How can you blame women for converting to geekiness? Who would want to play with a Barbie when they can have a lightsaber?

That is the point of nerd culture. We see the value in everyone and everything. We accept you regardless of who or what you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re a female like Lara Croft, disabled like Professor X, gay/bisexual like Captain Jack Harkniss, or even British. We are a culture founded on the principal that we are all created with an equal right to be geeky. We are not saying we still don’t have a long way to go in emphasizing brains over breasts, but our culture has made great strides in honoring women characters. Now its time to honor women geeks. Ultimately, if one were to put themselves in the shoes/boots/high heels/pumps/sandals/etc of women, would you rather dress in a revealing cheerleader outfit and be nothing more than an accessory to a sports game where you’re not really contributing anything or would you rather dress in a revealing costume that transforms you into a woman of power and prestige, who commands the room when you walk in.

High School Tendencies
Unfortunately, sports culture, in many ways, is more inclusive of women than nerds. Jocks have never accused a women dressed in a Giants jersey of being a “poser.” Nor has a professional baseball player go on a rant about all the fake women coming to games just so they can pretend to be something they are not. Perhaps, this controversy and the man like it has more to do with how jocks and nerds approach women.

First off, assuming all nerds/geeks are virgins is an offensive cliche, but we do share a common ancestry to a time when that was true. Maybe, it is undeniable to think that such a mindset has not pervaded the culture. Thus, it is entirely possible that nerds may be a bit more stand-offish with members of the opposite sex, and a lot of the knee-jerk nerd-rage going on may just be more defensive than anything else. We can all remember a time in my life where people, men and women, only pretended to like same things as us so they could use it with the intention ridicule. Everyone attended high school, but a new dawn has arrived. As a people geeks have to let go of that kind of rejection instinct. A lot of what we are seeing may just be the growing pains of geek culture as it becomes more mainstream, and hopefully we’ll be able to move past it as we progress into the future.

After all, most geeks are caring, trusting, fun-loving individuals. That goes for both men and women. Nerdiness was founded on acceptance and understanding. If we lose that part of the culture than who knows what we will become. So, to all those people out there with their finger pointing at women who may or may not be nerds, maybe they should start questioning what kind of a world they would rather live in? One with awesome ladies that share even a mild interest in comics/sci-gi/fantasy/etc? Or one of close-minded jerks who are prepared to berate anyone or anything that doesn’t meet their standards, because if the women bashing keeps up, that is what we will be left with.

“Genius. Billionaire. Playboy. Philanthropist. ”

That’s Tony Stark in his own words, a man who never shies away from immodesty. With one statement he basically claims that he has hit every mark of modern-day American success. He’s smart, wealthy, has a rock star-like sexual prowess, and is a humanitarian, but is that all he really stands for? With the conclusion of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the building anticipation of Captain America: Civil War, it seems like as good of a time as any to try and understand who really is the man behind the iron armor.

CEO America?
When people think of a superhero that best represents America, Iron Man is not always at the top of the list, but the truth is that Stark and his alter ego represent aspects of this country as much as anyone else carrying a star-spangled shield. First and foremost, Tony Stark is a capitalist, and there is nothing quite so American as that.

A billionaire industrialist, Anthony Edward Stark and his family made their money from weapons’ manufacturing and technology. Even once Tony made the move away from arms dealing he never lost his company or his wealth. In fact, the first Iron Man debuted in 2008 during the American recession, when over 7% of Americans were out of work and floundering for money. Yet, we cheered on the wealthy Stark all the same, because that first movie is basically a tale about how Tony must make himself worthy of his family’s company and wealth in order to prove that he is more than just a genius trust fund screw-up. It is like a version of the American dream, the self-constructed superhero. At a time when so many of America’s wealthy were practicing immoral acts against the public, it was nice to see a fictional one who was trying to do good. Iron Man was an idealized capitalist, but that has always been a basic fact of the character.

The best comic heroes are icons of something greater. For Tony Stark, his comic came along at a time when the “First World” was struggling against the evils of the “Second World,” the Cold War. Stan Lee designed Iron Man in 1963 to be the “quintessential capitalist.” He was designed to be a businessman and a weapons manufacturer. At the time capitalism was in direct opposition to communism, and Tony came to represent everything that struggle had to offer. Stark fought villains like the Mandarin and the Red Dynamo, using his wealth, and his technology to save the world, but if Captain America is a symbol of American ideals, than Iron Man has become a symbol of America’s pragmatic reality.

Ever since the end of the Cold War, our favorite shellhead has found himself floundering for villains to fight and most of the time he ends up being his own worst enemy, whether through alcoholism or blind ambition. If that sounds familiar, then congratulations you have been paying attention over the last thirty years of global politics. In modern times, Iron Man now represents more than just capitalism. He represents an America that is continually falling toward unfettered security. Of all the Marvel heroes we have seen on the big screen, Tony Stark has been the most dynamic. Captain America is a good guy, Bruce Banner had rage issues, Thor is a god with family problems, but Tony has shown the most growth, and not always for the best.

An Armored Allegory
As stated earlier, Iron Man was about Stark proving his worth. By the beginning of Iron Man 2 Tony was flying high. People loved him like a celebrity, and his enemies hated him like a devil, but most were too powerless to do anything about it. Technologically, he was so far beyond them that none of them could even begin to challenge Iron Man. The CEO of Stark Industries even gave the finger to Congress in a cinematic scene that would have made Ayn Rand stand up and cheer. The movie ended with Stark defeating some personal problems and some soviet sins from his family’s past, but Iron Man was still on top of the world. He was literally the world’s only superpower, like America after the Cold War. Times were good.

The Avengers changed all that. Tony was no longer alone and suddenly he faced a tragedy in New York City that completely shook his world view and his faith in himself. In the end, he saved the day, but he was never quite the same again. Iron Man 3, was about a new Tony Stark who suffered from panic attacks and became so obsessed with security that he built several dozen new Iron Man armors, new security systems, and even automated his suits to protect his home. Yet, when threatened by an enemy carrying out terrorist attacks, he blindly and immediately jumped to a stance of false bravado and strength. He paid the price for it as his technology failed him, and we learned that the terrorist he thought was his enemy was in fact nothing more than smoke and mirrors to hide the real threat presented by a fellow CEO of a powerful corporation that had been pulling the strings on both sides of the war.

In a way, this country has built more suits of armor than anyone else. Since 9/11 The United States has spent nearly 800 billion dollars on homeland security. Our own tragedy in New York has changed us, and given us justification to do as much harm to ourselves as anyone else. Stark has mirrored the American journey from the Cold War to the present almost precisely, the bravado, the fear, the heroism, the celebrity, and the wealth.

However, he is also coming to represent what the future of what America might become, if we keep on our current path. If Tony in Iron Man 3 represented the USA in modern times, than his role in Avengers: Age of Ultron represented what we could be in danger of becoming. Tony creates the Ultron Project to “put a suit of armor around the world.” He shows a favoritism toward security rather than freedom, and unsurprisingly it is an initiative that ends less than stellar for the Avengers and one small European country. This is a trajectory that promised to only increase in captain America: Civil War, where Tony’s fear and pragmatism will directly conflict with the old American idealism of Captain America.

Iron man Chart

Great Iron Men of History
Part of Mr. Stark’s problem is his capitalistic tendencies. We would not go so far as to say that he fits the bill of Ayn Rand’s ideal hero, but he does seem to prescribe to the Great Man Theory of history and culture, where all the world’s history is nothing more than the biographies of great men, one of which is Tony himself. He sees himself as the savior of the world, and that is something we cannot always fault him for. We have watched the struggles of Iron Man for more than five movies, and each step he has taken is incremental and almost understandable considering what he has faced.

America has taken a similar journey, and so often we see it as our duty to be the world’s policeman, but our power is fading and paranoia is starting to take hold. Like Tony Stark we have gone from an invincible technological superpower to a country willing to sacrifice freedom for safety. It is also worth mentioning that at the end of Iron Man 3, Tony literally had his heart removed, the very heart that made him Iron Man in the first place. The symbolism of that is about as heavy-handed as you can get.

Thus, the stage is set for this greater conflict of Civil War, but also for some real-world tensions that have sat at the core of our nation. The issue of this coming conflict will be between more than just two titans of Marvel comics. Is our modern system mutually exclusive to a idealistic belief in total personal freedom and equality? Have we allowed our own fears and ego to drive us to become something we no longer recognize? We are not the villain, but we may need to confront the fact that we may no longer be the hero either, at least not a hero like Steve Rogers.

Captain Idealism and Iron Reality
Calling Captain America an allegory for anything is almost an understatement less subtle than taking a red, white, and blue shield to the face. Yet, what a lot of people do not understand is that Cap is not really a representation of America as a whole, but a representation of an idealized America. He doesn’t represent the government, or the Army, or even democracy. Instead, we should look at Steve Rogers as a walking Bill of Rights: freedom, liberty, and equality.  He is not a cynic, nor is he a satirized symbol. Captain America is genuine, at least as genuine as his own belief that all men are truly created equal, regardless of race, color, religion, or even nationality. It is a trait he demonstrates in both comic and movie form, most notably by dismantling SHIELD when he sees them as having too much power over the ordinary citizen. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, it is Cap that first lends a voice of understanding to the Maximoff twins, even when he still thinks of them as his enemy. He does not revel in war, but understands its necessity.

Civil War will not just be a battle between two friends, but a battle between ideals: order versus freedom, safety versus privacy, and our new American reality versus our most sacred beliefs. Each side will have a point, and if done right each side will not be entirely wrong. If nothing else, we hope it is a movie that will spark debate among audiences, and not a debate about who is stronger physically, but who is right in their judgment.

It will be easy to paint Stark and his arguments as the villains, after all Captain America represents the best of us, the ideal we want to live up to, but should we always live our lives in a world of ideals? Iron Man would probably say that he sees people as they truly are, and he believes he is doing the best he can for the world as it stands, not as he hopes it will be. Is that wrong? There are no easy answers, and we each must struggle with them for ourselves.

Both Stark and Rogers represent different Americas, but the current conflict will be as much about their disagreements as it is about what our country will chose to become. The United States is still a young nation, and its role both domestically and in global politics is always changing. We live in a time of turmoil where technology moves faster than moral progress, we strive between our ideals and our fears. We are a country founded on opposing forces, liberal and conservative, security and liberty, democracy and capitalism. They all pull at each other like an arc reactor fighting to pull shrapnel from a wound, but much like that arc reactor these forces also act at the heart of our nation. They keeps us going and force us to continually confront the future with new and evolving ideas.

Bruce Wayne is a racist, there is no easy way to say that. Now before you run to the comment section below, let us start by saying that we are not indicating that Batman participates in active racism. He does not go around and beat down African Americans in between solving the Riddler’s puzzles. No, we are talking about how Bruce Wayne has enjoyed a certain level of privilege all his life. As a member of the Wayne family he was born wealthy. Even as Batman he enjoys the fruits of his family’s position. Yet, more to the point he is a white male, and there are more than a few perks to falling under that classification.

A Two-Faced Perspective
A lot of people will want to immediately protest that last statement. After all, when a real conversation about race starts the majority of Americans tend to shut down or shut out the facts. Thus, a white kid living in poverty is not going to instinctively see the inherent bias in our system, because of his own personal struggles and perspective. We experience the world through our own lens, whether you are Gotham’s billionaire son, a British manservant, or the black guy who makes all of Batman’s technology. Statistics rarely convince detractors, but we are going to hit you with some of them right now anyway. According to a recent 2014 poll, 40% of white Americans still believe that race relations in America are ‘good,’ as opposed to 35% black Americans. This statistic is down over the previous year, because of obvious recent events, but it still shows that a portion of America is unaware of the divide that exists even today in our nation.

The problem is that most Americans think of racism as something that happened in black and white photos in their history books, and fail to recognize that it is still reflected in the inherent inequalities within the system we live in. Thus, even if the caped crusader is not be an active racist, he still enjoys a level of comfort and position built upon the backs of institutional racism and prejudice that stretch back before the Civil War. Racism exists, not always in the actions of one race toward another, but as a historical ghosts that echoes through the halls of our schools, jobs, Arkham Asylums, and even government. It even clouds our perceptions and subconsciously directs our actions and feelings, like some long remembered childhood trauma that happened one night in a dark alleyway outside a theater.

For instance, Marvel has been taking a lot of flak about its lack of diversity in casting. Among the major discussions happening is the absence of Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man. Instead, Marvel is once again going with the white male role of Peter Parker. It is great that people are clamoring to see the racial diverse Morales take the place of Peter Parker, but what is not so great is that there is no talk about doing the same for Batman. Spider-Man and Batman are being rebooted into larger universes, and both on the heels of previously solo franchises. So why don’t the arguments being made for the racially diverse version of Spider-Man apply for an African American Batman? Is it because DC has no idea what they are doing? Yes, but it might also be because Spider-Man is a poor kid from Queens while Batman is a rich socialite from Gotham City. Of those two, which do we naturally assume to be a minority?

The Riddle of Racism?
Racism, is a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement. More to the point, it is a belief that has informed the way our society has been constructed. An often used complaint among white culture is that Black Americans receive the entire month of February for their history, but white people do not receive a similar month. That is true, but it is also a very limited perspective born from a lack of historical context and the fact that our fleshy bodies only last about eighty years. As humans we have a very small window to view the world, so for some it can become harder to take a more universal approach. People who see things such as Black History Month or affirmative action, are only seeing a small part of the story, devoid of context. It is like watching Batman punch the Joker without having any prior knowledge of the two characters, and getting angry that, “a crazy man in the bat outfit is punching a defenseless clown.” The truth is that we need to recognize that most of our history has been written from the white male perspective, and that perspective has become part of our instinctive understanding of our culture and ourselves operate, and that is the underpinning of the problem.

The practice of colonialism meant that white Europeans spread their dominance over most parts of the world and actively usurped local history and accomplishments with those of their own race. It helped remind locals who was in charge and made them feel inferior so as to not challenge the rule of the colonizers. In America, white culture and history was made superior to that of blacks, first to justify the economical system of slavery than to further the prejudicial system and non-integration. In modern times, those systems, set in place so long ago, still exist today. Our lives, our actions, and our nation does not exist in a bubble that is separated from history. Those past systems still inform the way our culture and society works.

There are plenty of statistics that confirm this. According to the APA, Black children are 18 times more likely to be sentenced as adults than white children, and make up nearly 60 percent of children in prisons. Black college graduates are twice as likely as white college graduates to struggle to find a job. The sentencing project found that on the New Jersey Turnpike black drivers make up 15 percent of drivers and more than 40 percent of traffic stops and 73 percent of arrests, but that they break traffic laws at the same rate as whites.

Success is built on success. Bruce Wayne inherited his wealth from Thomas and Martha Wayne. White people have had the power since colonial times, and they have passed that power down to their sons and their grandsons. Laws and systems were put into place to strengthen the ability of white people to subtly profit over minorities. Neighborhoods arose as did ghettos, segregated by race, by wealth, and by choice. With those neighborhoods arose adequate and inadequate school systems, gang violence, and extracurricular activities. People grew up different, with different attitudes and different ideas about the world. Some felt repressed and came to believe that they deserved to be, because society confirmed it. Others rose to acquire wealth and prosperity, which they passed on to their children, even after they were gunned down in an alleyway. Bruce Wayne is not prejudiced, but he did benefit from a system of racism. After all, how many parents are gunned down in minority neighborhoods, and of those, how many of those children grow up with the means to become Batman?

A Bane to Real Discussion
This is an incredibly hard topic to talk about, especially lately. It polarizes people on both sides. White people do not want to be seen as racist, and so instinctively they will flat out deny the problem and often shift blame to others. In New York, Hispanics and blacks are three times more likely to be stopped and frisked by police. Many white people will look at that statistic and say, “those people should not be doing what they are doing or walking where they are walking or acting how they act and they won’t get stopped.” Or they say that those particular police officers were racist, but that is not the whole story, because passive racism can be just as pervasive and even more damaging. It is old ideas informing not our thoughts but our subconscious understandings, until they become so pervasive we accept them as normal.

The human mind makes associations, it was how we evolved to survive in the wild, but we are no longer a tribal society hunting elk for food. So those prejudices have come to inform our government, our businesses, and the way we treat one another. Yet, because we want to see ourselves as evolved and enlightened we tend to reject those actions or mark them as isolated incidents. In a sense we become Two-Face and our brain literally goes to war with itself over the concept of racism. When that happens we don’t flip a coin to solve it. Instead, many of us just shut down on the subject all together. We say, “it’s not our problem,” “or that we aren’t racists,” or that “we didn’t cause it.”

A Signal in the Sky
Bruce Wayne is a racist, but he is also Batman. The Dark Knight knows something that a lot of other people do not. Just because you are not directly responsible for something, does not mean that you are not responsible for cleaning it up. Bruce did not create the crime and the poverty and corruption of Gotham, but he understands that he is responsible to be part of the solution to it. He could just as easily go on living a privileged playboy lifestyle,  but instead he becomes Batman because he has a responsibility to use his wealth and power to help those around him make the world a better place.

For white people, you have never owned a slave, at least we assume you never did. You probably never participated in active discrimination, you may never even have made a racial joke, but you are still a racist, not because you did something but because you refuse to do anything. You did not create this problem, but you have the power, the position, and therefore the responsibility to help fix it, because it needs fixing.

Racism still exists. We have come a long way, but the journey is not done. Everyone born now, was born closer to that proverbial mountain top, and it is human nature for us to look back at the long and rocky road and say, “look how far we have come. We have succeeded,” but the truth is that we have not yet reached that fabled peak. There is still more to climb. There is still a lot of difficult road ahead, and we are all responsible for getting there. Racism is not an issue for just minorities, it is an issue for all us. No one who lives today started this problem, but, like Bruce Wayne, we are all responsible for cleaning up the streets of our own personal Gotham City. It is up to us, because we are all Bruce Wayne, and that means we are also all Batman.