492. About Storytelling: Representation Really Matters

This post is a long one, but I believe it’s much more important than most of this blog’s nonsense, so please bear with me patiently. (This post is also extremely geeky, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone.)

A friend and I recently watched Doctor Strange, the latest in a long line of superhero movies based on Marvel comics. It starred Benedict Cumberbatch, the actor from Sherlock who looks like an otter. Along with some psychedelic visuals—watching certain scenes was like taking drugs without actually, y’know, taking drugs—Mr. Cumberbatch’s performance elevated an otherwise predictable Marvel movie.

Yes, Marvel movies are pretty formulaic at this point. The dialogue is peppered with quips, the villains are generally unimpressive, and the starring heroes are white dudes.

It’s tradition.

Every headlining star in a Marvel movie has been a white man. There are female characters and characters of color, of course, but nearly always in supporting roles. Black Widow (a woman) and Nick Fury (a black man) don’t get their own movies. War Machine and Falcon, both black heroes, are sidekicks to Iron Man and Captain America, both white heroes. Movies starring a black man (Black Panther) and a woman (Captain Marvel) are in development, but after eight years, only white men have starred so far in the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Maybe I’m looking in the wrong place for diverse representation. Maybe I should look at, say, video games.

I’m pretty sure that each of these famous video game characters is actually the same guy in a different wig.

Maybe not.

I have absolutely nothing against white guys. I am a white guy. Many of my friends are white guys. There is nothing wrong with white guys. However, when white guys become a default template for fictional characters, well, that just ain’t fair.

People like to see themselves represented well in fiction. For example, I’m a Christian, and it really bugs me that Christians are often underrepresented, or represented badly, in popular culture. Joining Christians in that category are… well, lots of people. Women, people of color, various minority groups, and people with certain body types, among others, are often not represented well.

It ain’t fair.

I could yell and shake my fists, but won’t. (I find it doesn’t help.)

Instead, I’ll give a shout out to Marvel Entertainment, whose films I criticized earlier for lacking diversity, because its story doesn’t end there.

Marvel makes TV shows with fairly diverse representation. Luke Cage stars a black man, features a mostly black cast, and offers thoughtful takes on black culture and identity. I didn’t like Jessica Jones, but its depiction of a woman recovering from (maybe literal and definitely metaphorical) rape trauma deserves consideration and respect.

In the meantime, Marvel’s comics are becoming steadily more diverse. I hardly read superhero comics. However, I do occasionally read articles from Evan Narcisse, a journalist who offers brief but fascinating glimpses into contemporary comics.

Well, this is different. I like it.

Mr. Narcisse’s articles inform me that a woman carries Thor’s title at the moment. The current Spider-Man, Miles Morales, is a half-black, half-Hispanic teenager. Iron Man’s successor is a young black woman. Bruce Banner has passed on his Hulk condition to a young Asian-American man.

Marvel is embracing diverse representation, and so are many video games. I can think of at least two games—not indie games, mind you, but triple-A titles—that star Native Americans. More games are getting people of color, and fewer babes in chain-mail bikinis, as playable characters. The latest Tomb Raider games reinvent Lara Croft, perhaps the most egregious sex symbol in the game industry, as a smart, tough woman who actually wears clothes.

Then there’s Overwatch. God bless Overwatch. It’s a multiplayer video game in which colorful characters shoot each other with guns. It also boasts some truly amazing (read: Pixar-level) animations. I’ll never play Overwatch—I don’t care for multiplayer games about shooting people with guns—but I’m glad it exists.

Overwatch has an amazing cast of characters.

The characters in Overwatch represent quite a number of races, nationalities, and body types. As you might expect from a video game, there are a couple of tough-looking white guys and a few slim, curvy white ladies. There’s also a chubby Asian woman, a black Hispanic man, an old Middle Eastern woman, and a brawny Slavic woman, to name a few. (There’s also a gorilla from the moon. How’s that for diversity?)

I will remember the characters in Overwatch long after I’ve forgotten most of the generic white dudes from other video games—and that’s one reason representation really matters. Far from getting in the way of storytelling, representation can actually improve it. Diverse characters bring backgrounds, languages, cultures, and points of view to a story that might otherwise be generic or forgettable.

By the way, I know this is a longer post than usual, so please accept, as a reward for reading this far, this animation of a character from Overwatch booping someone’s nose. It’s barely relevant, but it makes me happy. Here you go.


What was I saying? I was distracted by the boop. Ah, yes, I was making the case that diverse representation can actually benefit storytelling.

A lot of people grumble that diverse representation is just “political correctness,” and that it causes harm. Does it?

Believe it or not, there can be harm in diverse representation. It can be done badly. Diversity for its own sake, lacking respectfulness and understanding, is a huge mistake. Not doing can cause less damage than doing badly. It’s wrong to leave a starving man hungry, but it’s worse to feed him poison.

Diverse representation isn’t easy. Like everything else in a good story, it must seem real. It must convince. A storyteller must understand and respect whatever he represents, which is especially hard if it doesn’t represent him.

This brings me to a personal note. It’s easy for me to preach diversity in storytelling without actually practicing it. Up to this point, I haven’t practiced it.

I want to practice it. Instead of merely ranting that contemporary stories aren’t diverse enough, I should tell a story with diversity. Conveniently enough, there’s a story I want to tell.

Anyone who has followed this blog for more than five minutes knows of the Lance Eliot saga, the story I’ve tried for more than a decade to write. Its hero was always a white dude because, y’know, I’m always a white dude.

This time, Lance Eliot isn’t white. He’s Hispanic—Ecuadorian American, to be exact.


The premise of the Lance Eliot saga is that Lance saves another world from destruction. I had always planned for a few other characters to represent other races, but imagined Lance as a white man.

In so doing, I became unintentionally guilty of upholding the white savior narrative, in which a white person rescues a community of non-white people. On the surface, it’s a bit racist. Look a little deeper, and… well, it’s still racist. The narrative is common, however—just look at James Cameron’s Avatar, whose white hero saves an entire society of people of color. (That color is blue, but the narrative is the same.)

I didn’t want Lance Eliot to be another white savior. The world has enough white saviors; Lance can be a coffee-colored one.

I chose to make Lance an Ecuadorian American specifically because of all non-white ethnic groups, I believe it’s the one I can represent most faithfully, respectfully, and convincingly. I grew up in Ecuador; I live in America. Beside, I’m well acquainted with an Ecuadorian American: my aunt, a wonderful lady who not only makes delicious Ecuadorian food, but also watches American football with greater enthusiasm than any of the white people in my family. (My white relatives prefer Latin American soccer, ironically enough.)

Has Lance’s change of ethnicity gotten in the way of the story? Not at all! In fact, I believe it will enrich the story… whenever I get around to writing it. As a character suspended between cultures, Lance now has better reasons for feeling insecure and out of place, and for hiding those feelings behind sharp sarcasm. He can adapt quickly to the fantasy world I will create, because he’ll already have learned to adapt to other cultures. I can relate to Lance more than ever before. My attempt at diverse representation will (probably) help me to write a better story.

People like to see themselves represented well in fiction, but even as a white guy, I’m tired of seeing white guys. I want to see other experiences, cultures, and points of view. There’s a big world out there, and I want to see more of it.

On a related note, Disney’s Moana just hit theaters. It looks rad.

Well, I’m hooked. (Pun intended. I’m so, so sorry.)

I know this post was a long one, and probably not much fun to read. Thanks for reading it anyway. Adam out. Boop!

The Batman of Shanghai

We live in a time of conflict and turmoil. In this age of uncertainty, the video above dares to ask the one question that really matters: What if the Batman stories were set in 1930s Shanghai?

The Bat Man of Shanghai is a four-minute animated miniseries; each of its three episodes is about a minute and twenty seconds long. The animation is gorgeous. Its style seems to take its cues from such diverse inspirations as ink wash painting, Japanese anime, Hong Kong action movies, and Western comics.

If you have any interest in martial arts, superheroes, animation, or stuff that’s cool, I highly recommend The Bat Man of Shanghai. The entire miniseries is only four minutes long. I wish it were much, much longer.

Here’s the second part:

And here’s the third part:

Is it too late to nominate Batman for President of the United States? Imagine it: The United States of America, one Nation under Batman. We could put his scowling face on US currency. (The Founding Fathers were great men, but none of them were Batman.) Heck, with the Dark Knight in charge, the US wouldn’t even need nukes. Who needs nuclear deterrence when you have the Caped Crusader?

Batman for President 2016.

477. About Storytelling: Comic Relief

Always be comic in a tragedy. What the deuce else can you do?

~ G.K. Chesterton

The Internet is buzzing over Luke Cage, the latest Marvel superhero show from Netflix. I’ve watched only a few episodes, but it’s pretty good so far, with compelling drama, solid acting, a funky soundtrack—and thank heaven, a sense of humor.

Fun so far!

In art, as in life, humor is invaluable. Shakespeare understood this. He wrote a lot of comedies, and even his tragedies have gleams of humor. Romeo and Juliet is full of dirty jokes, and Hamlet has the funny gravedigger. (I don’t even like Shakespeare’s plays, but that scene from Hamlet makes me smile.) William Shakespeare is widely regarded as a master storyteller, and comic relief is a key part of his stories.

Comic relief is a storytelling technique in which humorous moments, characters, or dialogue are included in an otherwise dark or serious story. The purpose of comic relief is generally to relieve tension, softening stories that might otherwise be unpleasant or unpalatable.

(Comedies can’t have comic relief because they’re already comical. Comic relief describes not a comical tone, but a break from a serious one. Incidentally, if tragedies have comic relief, shouldn’t comedies have tragic relief? Just wondering.)

When Netflix began making shows about Marvel superheroes, it began with Daredevil, an outstanding series that I totally lovedDaredevil used comic relief very effectively. It’s a dark show. Its heroes (and, unexpectedly, its villains) wrestle with guilt, rage, self-doubt, and other inner demons. A lot of people die violently. Corruption runs rampant. Heck, there’s even a lot of literal darkness.

Tons of fun!

Fortunately, the darker elements of Daredevil are kept in check by comic relief. My favorite character, Foggy Nelson, brings sarcasm, cheerful pessimism, and warm humanity to a fairly angsty cast of characters. One of the villain’s advisers, Leland Owlsley, reacts to everything with a perfect mixture of snark and grumpiness. Even Daredevil’s mentor, a ruthless killer named Stick, speaks with a dry, sardonic sense of humor. There’s just enough humor (and humanity) in Daredevil to make the darkness and tragedy palatable.

Then came Jessica Jones, Netflix’s follow-up to Daredevil, and lo, it was painfully bleak. Without going into details—believe me, they aren’t pleasant—it’s a show about violence, abuse, betrayal, addiction, and toxic relationships, with some rape metaphors thrown in for good measure. The entire show hinges on the protagonist’s abusive relationship with a super-powered sadist. Yeah. Nasty stuff.

The thing is that Jessica Jones is actually an artistic, thoughtful, well-written, well-acted drama. It’s just painful to watch. There’s nothing to brighten the gloom or ease the tension. (David Tennant is in it, and he’s awesome, but his character is a cruel, rapey, mind-controlling stalker, so… yeah, that doesn’t help.) None of the characters are likable, and there’s no comic relief. Wait, no, I recall one joke. I think it might be repeated once. That’s it. Jessica Jones is thirteen episodes of misery.

No fun at all.

I’ve seen the first season of Daredevil twice. I will never watch Jessica Jones again. The hope and humor in Daredevil make the darker bits bearable. Jessica Jones is all darker bits.

So far, Luke Cage, which follows the events of Jessica Jones, has been really good. There aren’t as many quips as in Daredevil—man, do I ever miss Foggy Nelson—but the characters in Luke Cage at least have a sense of humor, and it makes a world of difference.

Not every tragedy needs comic relief. I can’t help but think of Shūsaku Endō, who wrote such terrific novels as Silence and The Samurai. There’s no humor in these books, and they’re more powerful for it.

Comic relief isn’t an absolute necessity, but it’s often helpful. Stories are told to edify, sure, but also to entertain… and who doesn’t appreciate a laugh?

Gritty or Glittery?

In the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of gritty media: books, films, and video games characterized by darkness, angst, violence, and square-jawed men brooding over inner conflicts. From Wolverine to Walter White, we’ve seen plenty of angsty characters on the large and small screens. Books—even young adult literature—feature people killing (and dying!) in all sorts of creative ways. The video game industry continues making games with guns, gore, and roughly one in every five words of dialogue being the f-bomb.

Angst! Darkness! Square jaws!

Angst! Darkness! Square jaws!

Why is gritty media popular? That’s a tough question to answer. I suppose there’s some truth to the darkness and violence in these media, and it resonates with people. We all feel sadness, discouragement, and anger. Some face depression, abuse, self-destructive impulses, or equally “gritty” problems.

Finally, gritty media often seems mature, sophisticated, or “grown-up.” All of this begs the question: Is it?

While gritty media has become more popular in past years, there are still plenty of lighthearted books, films, and video games: “glittery” media, so to speak.

Light! Smiles! Goofy braces!

Light! Smiles! Goofy braces!

Throughout history, comedy has nearly always taken a backseat to tragedy. Shakespeare’s most famous plays are his tragedies; Mark Twain’s cynical Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is celebrated over his cheerfuller books; P.G. Wodehouse’s clever comedies are largely eclipsed by the gloomy writings of his contemporaries. It seems humor and optimism can’t be taken seriously.

While there are certainly good things to say for gritty narratives, I don’t believe grittier is necessarily better. A purpose of art is to reflect or represent truth; the truth is that life isn’t always gloomy. A Farewell to Arms or The Things They Carried may be brilliant depictions of the horrors of war, but peace is no less real than violence. I think it’s absurd to suppose, say, Anne of Green Gables is necessarily an inferior book because it reflects joy and sentiment instead of pain and despair.

In the end, it’s a mistake to judge the quality of a thing by whether it’s gritty or glittery, tragic or comic, cynical or optimistic. That said, I would love to see people take glittery media more seriously. Can we study humorists like P.G. Wodehouse or James Thurber more widely in schools? I’m sure students wouldn’t mind putting down The Lord of the Flies. Can we have fewer gritty superhero movies and have more like Marvel’s quirky Guardians of the Galaxy? We could use a break from gloom and doom.

The world is an awfully dark place, but there’s a little light left. Some stories remember that, and I think they’re worth taking seriously.

This post was originally published on October 24, 2014. TMTF shall return with new posts on Monday, September 5!

453. Fans, Geeks, and Cosplay: A Momentary Study

Geeks are fascinating creatures. In a perfect world, someone would make a nature documentary about them, and it would be narrated by Morgan Freeman. Tragically, since I don’t own a video camera and can’t afford to employ Mr. Freeman, I’ll have to keep writing blog posts about geeks instead of producing that well-deserved documentary.

Yes, it’s time for another brief exploration of geek culture. Today’s subject is cosplay, the hobby (or art, depending on your point of view) of dressing up like characters from movies, comics, video games, or other media. It’s sort of like wearing Halloween costumes, but really… hardcore.

Lord of the Rings cosplay

Here’s some Lord of the Rings cosplay.

The word cosplay is a portmanteau of costume and play; it denotes not only the hobby, but also specific examples of it.

Dedicated cosplayers often create their own cosplays. This sounds easy, but flipping heck, some cosplays are complicated. Depending on the complexity of the costume, a cosplayer may need the expertise of a tailor, makeup artist, leatherworker, blacksmith, or even computer modeler (for 3D printing).

Cosplayers show off their creations by attending geeky events (such as conventions) in costume, or by holding photo shoots and sharing the photos via blogs or social networks. Some fans are so good at cosplay that they do it professionally. In order to promote their brands or products, companies may hire professional cosplayers to mingle or manage booths at conventions, trade shows, or other events. Some cosplayers don’t merely dress as characters, but act and speak like them in improvised performances.

While some cosplay strives for perfect authenticity to its source material, other styles may feature creative twists on familiar characters, or gender swaps.

Darth Batman and Lady Link

On the left is a gender-swapped Link from The Legend of Zelda. On the right is… wait, is that Darth Batman? That is AWESOME!

What separates cosplay from other forms of dressing up? Costumes feature in some holidays and cultural events, but their purpose is nearly always rooted in tradition, religion, or symbolism. Cosplay, by contrast, is an expression of enthusiasm for a particular work or character. (Halloween costumes can be a bit cosplay-ish.)

Aided by the spread of the Internet, cosplay has gained prominence in just the past few decades; the term itself originated in the eighties. However, dressing up as fictional characters has a long and rich history. For example, just off the top of my head, I recall a scene in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott in which a couple of its characters dress up as literary figures for a fancy dress ball. Cosplay has evolved as a hobby in recent times, but its roots are firmly planted in centuries of human history.

Like many geeky hobbies, cosplay sometimes carries social stigmas. Cosplay may be considered childish, creepy, or inappropriate.

I’m not a cosplayer, but I usually disagree with these stereotypes. Cosplay is a creative hobby. It often requires superb dedication and all kinds of specialized skills. Like dressing up for Halloween, it’s fun for a lot of people. It can be inappropriate, certainly—but generally as a reflection of inappropriate media or characters. If a cosplay is in poor taste, it’s probably because the media it represents was in poor taste first.

Sadly, not all of the stigmas against cosplay come from outside its community. Fans and geeks can be as cruel as anybody. Over the years, some cosplayers have been criticized or insulted for having the wrong body type, skin color, or physical features for cosplaying certain characters. That’s dumb.

Perfectly fine cosplay

Black Captain America? Plus-size Batman? Cool. I see no problem here.

Do you see that black guy cosplaying Captain America, a traditionally white character? He’s a cosplayer. He’s not actually Captain America. It’s okay. Everyone can stop freaking out. The chubby fellow cosplaying Batman? He isn’t Batman. He lacks Batman’s muscular physique, and he’s smiling happily, which isn’t terribly Batman-like. Does it matter? He’s having a good time. So is the black gentleman in the Captain America suit, and the lady rocking Link’s iconic green tunic, and whatever mad genius created Darth Batman.

Cosplay isn’t about rules. It’s about fun, acceptance, and coming together as geeks to wear goofy costumes. Anybody should be able to cosplay as whatever the heck they want. After all, isn’t that the point of cosplay? Isn’t cosplay a chance to be an actor without a stage, becoming a completely different person, if only for a little while?

I don’t cosplay, but I understand why so many people have embraced it as a hobby. I respect them. I wish more people did. In fact, generally speaking, I wish more people respected geeks instead of assuming the worst of them. Heck, while I’m at it, I wish more people respected other people. That would be a great start.

I’m not planning ever to cosplay… but if I did, I bet I’d make a pretty good Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon, or even a tolerable Tenth Doctor. Just a thought.

450. Adam Answers

As TMTF hits its last fifty-post milestone before the end, I want to pause a moment, thank everyone who has been a part of this blog’s journey, and declare my opinion that Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie.

Empire Strikes Back

The greatness was strong with this one.

All right, with that out of the way, here are my answers to the questions submitted by readers for today’s Q&A. Here we go!

JK asks: In spite of your down-playing your abilities, I think your singing is quite lovely. Do you have any music related experience/training, or is it just natural know how? Play any instruments to go along with the vocals? Follow up, can we get another serenade while you’re at it?

Aw, thanks, JK! I sang in choir a couple of years in high school, and performed with a few worship teams over the years, but I’ve never taken lessons or anything.

I am a little proud of my vibrato: that wobble in the pitch of my singing voice. As a kid, I heard other singers perform the vibrato technique. I thought it was neat, so I trained myself to do it. Mine is a bit forced, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

The only instrument I’ve ever played is the bongo drum, for which I have no training whatsoever, and on which I performed with more enthusiasm than skill.


None of my typewriter monkeys play bongos, thank heaven. Imagine the racket!

I’ve thought about doing one or two more song covers, but for an amateur like me, they take a ton of trial and error. I’d rather spend my non-blogging free time relaxing! I did cover “Baba Yetu” karaoke-style a while back, though, singing over the original track. I’m really pleased with how that one turned out.

Sarah asks: How much time per week do you and your monkeys put into the blog? And how has that changed since you started the site? Of all the places you could have chosen to live, why Indiana?

Good questions! My time spent blogging varies wildly from week to week, and I don’t really keep track of it, but I estimate three to eight hours.

Depending on the kind of post I write, I might dash off it in an hour or slave away at it for three to five. Personal reflections and silly thoughts on random subjects are quicker and easier to write; serious treatises take tons of time and effort. Posts involving audio recording or image editing take extra time.

I’m probably spending less time on the blog these days than when I started, thanks to my decision long ago to publish a short, geeky commentary every Wednesday instead of another numbered post. The shorter mid-week updates require much less effort, and they let me share stuff I think is cool.

Your final question is a familiar one! When people ask me why I settled in Indiana after living overseas, I tell them, “It’s a really long story, but I’ll give you the really short version.”

Here’s that short answer: I live in the United States because, of all the countries in the world, it’s the only one for which I currently have the legal paperwork required for a job; I live in Indiana because, of the few roots I have in this country, most are here; and I live in the little town of Berne because, when I was looking for a job years ago, it had the only place that would hire me.

Berne ain’t a bad place to live.

I’m fond of Berne, but it really could use a movie theater, some mountains, a beach or two, a Japanese noodle stand, and a Starbucks. Ah, well. Nowhere is perfect, I guess.

JS asks: What about pants?

A most profound question. I cannot offer an answer worthy of it, for I am but a foolish mortal. How can I, or any of the humans who live their short lives upon this fading earth, match a question of such wisdom with an answer equally wise?

The word pants can be traced back through the English, French, and Italian languages to Pantalone, the character stereotype in commedia dell’arte, a form of performance art popular in sixteenth-century Italy. This stereotype, which caricatured Venetians, was named for Saint Pantaleon, a saint popular in Venice.

By following these tangled skeins of history and etymology, we trace pants to a legendary saint. Does its connection to an ancient martyr make pants the holiest of clothes?

Speaking of holey clothes, why do some stores sell torn jeans? Who actually buys pants that, as Dave Barry put it, appear to have been ripped to shreds by crazed wolverines? That’s another question for which I have no good answer.


Not that kind of wolverine, guys.

Returning to my reader’s question, a character in Avatar: The Last Airbender, my all-time favorite show, offers this unfathomable wisdom: “Pants are an illusion, and so is death.”

My own view on pants is that a gentleman shouldn’t leave home without them.

That concludes today’s Q&A post! I’m grateful to everyone who submitted questions; without you, this post would have been embarrassingly short. Thanks, guys.

With fifty posts left, TMTF is hitting the final stretch at last. I could say a lot, but I’ll save it for some other time. For now, I will only say this: Onward!

444. Adam Turns into the Hulk and Rants about Noisy People

Caution: This blog post contains furious ranting. Sensitive readers, and readers averse to things being smashed, are advised not to continue.

Do you know what really gets my goat? Noisy people in public places. When folks around me in church or at the movies make a lot of noise, my goat is really and truly gotten.

Gets my goat

I would almost rather be surrounded by goats than by noisy people. Almost.

I understand that most people are sometimes a little louder than they mean to be. I sure am. That said, how can anyone excuse talking over a movie at the theater, or worse, a service at church? Do people not realize their chatter is disruptive, uncaring, and rude?

I try not to get angry about little things, but seriously… this one infuriates me. And do you know… what happens… to things that infuriate me?

They… they get… smashed.














…What was I talking about? Noisy people? They’re the worst. That’s all.

437. My Name Is Adam Stück, and I’M FINE!

Once upon a time, three friends—a surgeon, an architect, and a lawyer—argued over which of their professions came first.

The surgeon declared, “Come on, guys, surgery was obviously the first profession. God performed surgery on Adam to remove his rib, which he used to create Eve. It’s right there in the Bible.”

The architect shook her head. “No, no, God was an architect before he was ever a surgeon! ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ It’s literally the first verse in the book.”

At this, the lawyer crossed his arms and smirked. “You’re both wrong,” he declared. “There was a lawyer before any of that.” His friends stared. “Before God made the world, there was only darkness and confusion,” he explained. “Of course lawyers came first. Who do you think caused all that darkness and confusion?”

Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson

Yes, lawyers have a reputation for dishonesty. They probably don’t deserve it, but then I don’t know any lawyers, so I’m not sure. Honest or not, lawyers are certainly a bit intimidating. It was Dave Barry who identified Fear of Attorneys as one of the six basic human emotions, along with Anger, Lust, Greed, Envy, and the Need to Snack.

My own experience of lawyers is limited mostly to Rumpole of the Bailey, Marvel’s Daredevil, and the Ace Attorney series of video games: none of which are terribly realistic in their depiction of the law.

I can think of at least one lawyer, however, whose insight I value. In Ace Attorney, an up-and-coming lawyer prepares for each trial by repeating the same statement over and over.

“I’m fine!”

I’m fine!

“My name is Apollo Justice, and I’M FINE!

(His name really is Apollo Justice; I can’t decide whether it’s stupid, awesome, or both.)


In every trial, no matter how much he wants to throw up or run away and hide, Apollo tells himself that he’s going to be okay. He reminds himself that no matter how difficult the trial, no matter how bad it gets, he’s fine.

As anyone knows who has followed this blog for a while, I live with mild chronic depression and anxiety. They aren’t severe enough to warrant medication, and they’ve improved greatly since I left a toxic work situation about a year ago, but they’re definitely a nuisance.

My malaise comes and goes. On good days, I forget it completely; on bad days, it’s hard to think of anything else. For years, I’ve occasionally felt close to breaking down or giving up—yet here I am. I’m fine. I’m fine.

As a family member once pointed out, for all the times I felt like I couldn’t make it through another day, my survival rate has been one hundred percent so far. That’s pretty good, all things considered. I’ve made it this far by God’s grace, and I have every reason to suppose his grace won’t ever fail.

For years, I hoped to figure out some perfect strategy for coping with the bad days. I’m beginning to think there isn’t one. The bad days seem just as dreary and hopeless as they ever have, and I feel just as unprepared for them. I shall probably always feel unprepared for them. There are no magic words or foolproof plans for dealing with certain problems.

Maybe I should just remind myself every so often that I’m fine. I may not feel fine, but I’ve made it this far, and today shan’t be my last. I’ll make it. With God’s help, I’ll make it. Things will get better. They always do.

I'M (also) FINE!

For the record, I don’t feel bad at the time of publishing this post. It’s just something I’ve been meaning to write for a while, and I’m only just getting around to it.

I’m fine, really!

I’m fine!

My name is Adam Stück, and I’M FINE!

430. Revelation Is a Weird, Weird Book

Donald Trump is all over the news these days. He reminds me of the book of Revelation, and of the end of the world.

Nah, I’m just kidding. When the author of Revelation described trumps resounding, I doubt he had this particular Trump in mind. Then again, maybe he did. It is a weird book.


Brace yourself. Things are about to get weird.

A high school teacher of mine once declared, “I hope this doesn’t offend anyone, but Revelation almost makes me wonder if John was tripping on something when he wrote it,” or words to that effect.

Revelation is a bizarre book, full of visions that seem more like hallucinations. A closer look reveals something even stranger. Revelation is a bit like Frankenstein’s monster: a book stitched together from bits of other books. It combines concepts and images from Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah with New Testament events such as the life of Christ and the spread of the Christian Church.

Revelation is weird, man.

The book is a bizarro mixture of warnings, prophecies, and visions, practically all of which are incredibly vague, and some of which are just weird. There are plagues, earthquakes, beasts, angels, demons, and locusts with human faces and scorpion stings. (I’m not making up that last one, I swear.)

La Virgen

This statue from my hometown of Quito represents a vision in Revelation.

Opinions on Revelation are extremely divided. Some interpret these visions and prophecies as literally as possible, which is the basis for the Left Behind books. (They’re pretty terrible.) Others believe the visions are somehow symbolic of world events. A few lunatics believe the mystical “secrets” of Revelation can be somehow “unlocked,” which is rubbish.

I have no idea how to interpret Revelation, but the most sensible theory I’ve read is that its visions and prophecies applied not to events in our own future, but to events that occurred nearly two millennia ago. According to this view, Revelation prophesied imminent events such as the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. This theory isn’t perfect, but it seems more rational than most of the ideas floating around these days.

Of course, there’s more to Revelation than its unanswered questions. Certain elements of Revelation have captured imaginations everywhere and left a huge cultural impact.

Consider the number 666. “This calls for wisdom,” wrote the author of Revelation. “If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.” Many have tried to solve this riddle, but none have figured it out.

The best theory I’ve heard, based on established traditions of biblical numerical symbolism, is that it represents someone who challenges the sovereignty of God. The number three represents God, who is three Persons, and the number seven symbolizes perfection. The number 666 (three sixes) represents an imperfect trinity that falls short of perfect divinity.

Nowadays, the number 666 is used mostly in horror movies and stuff. Superstitions surround the number to a point at which some people are a little scared of it. This fear is called hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia. (Seriously, I’m not making this up.)

Another popular image from Revelation is the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These bringers of divine judgment ride differently-colored horses and are widely believed to represent cataclysmic events. The riders of the white, red, black, and pale horses are thought to symbolize conquest (or possibly plague), war, famine, and death, respectively.


The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, more or less.

The Four Horsemen have been embraced by pop culture, even becoming characters in superhero comics. (Heck, the trailers for the next X-Men movie suggest the Horsemen will make an appearance.) There are even unofficial My Little Pony versions of the Horsemen, because this is the Internet.

Revelation is full of weird images and intriguing concepts, but the note on which it ends is a hopeful one. The final chapters of Revelation paint a picture of a world no longer broken, but restored and renewed. God wipes away the pain, the injustice, the suffering. He makes things right.

The older I get, the more I see the brokenness of the world. In my twenty-something years, I’ve glimpsed the sickening realities of poverty, abuse, depression, mental illness, and addiction—and God only knows what horrors I haven’t seen. It makes me long for everything to be fixed.

This brings me to a song. It is, honestly, the most beautiful song I know. No song in the universe stirs my soul quite so deeply as Michael Card’s “New Jerusalem.” It makes me long for a time when there will be no more hunger, no more child soldiers, no more senseless massacres, and no more pain.

That is the great message of Revelation, which not even its weirdest visions can eclipse: God will someday set things straight.

428. An Open Letter to Hollywood 2: The Sequel

Dear Hollywood Executives,

I know you’re all very busy, so I’ll try to keep this short. It’s been a while since my last letter, which I assume you all read, and another one is due. Consider it a sequel.

You’ve made a few small improvements since my last letter. For example, you actually made a Deadpool movie. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard it’s pretty good. (I’ve also heard that it’s extremely vulgar, but Deadpool’s gotta Deadpool, I guess.) So many superhero movies are all doom and gloom, because, y’know, heaven forbid comic-book stories be fun for anybody. Irreverent takes on the genre like Deadpool and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy are a welcome change. It’s okay for superhero movies not to take themselves so seriously. We don’t mind, honest!

Speaking of superhero movies, can we get a bit more diversity? Please? Take the Avengers, otherwise known as the League of White Guys. (They have only one female member: a token femme fatale with no superpowers.) I don’t read Marvel comics, but I know they feature more than white dudes. I don’t have anything against white dudes—I am one, as a matter of fact—but flooding superhero movies with them is unfair, uncool, and frankly kinda boring.

To be fair, I must congratulate you on giving Black Panther, the no-nonsense African superhero, a part in the new Captain America movie, and working toward giving him his own film in a couple of years. For a change, the black guy won’t be just a sidekick. He’ll be the hero.

Black PantherIt will be nice, after more than a dozen Marvel movies, finally to have one whose hero isn’t a white American (or quasi-British) male. It’s a step in the right direction. Keep stepping, ladies and gentlemen. Keep stepping.

I’ve already written about video game movies and portrayals of Christians in secular media, so I won’t repeat myself here. Just go read those blog posts. I will, however, emphatically repeat my appeal for a Metal Gear Solid movie. It should happen. It needs to happen. Please, please, please, make it happen. I will give you anything to make a Metal Gear Solid movie, unto half my kingdom. (I won’t actually give you anything for making the movie, but I will buy tickets to see it.)

Look, I’ve even done some of the casting for you.

Metal Gear Solid movie Now you just need to make the movie. Please do.

As long as we’re discussing film adaptations: Why don’t you adapt more old books? As you struggle to come up with ideas, consider the thousands of terrific stories available at your local library. I once made a list of books that would make great films, and you’ve made only one of them (Ender’s Game) with a second (Ben-Hur) on its way. Seriously, I want a film version of The Man Who Was Thursday almost as much as I want that Metal Gear Solid movie.

Incidentally, I hear Martin Scorsese is working on an adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s Silence: a brooding and powerful novel about the silence of God.

SilenceIt’s exactly the sort of obscure, slow-paced book you Hollywood execs won’t touch with a ten-foot boom pole. Mr. Scorsese thinks differently. Learn from Mr. Scorsese, Hollywood.

Moving on from a good director to some really bad ones: Why are you still letting Michael Bay and M. Night Shyamalan make movies? Why?! Just stop. Stop. Staaahhhp.

On a brighter note, Disney and Pixar have been making some outstanding movies lately. I’m glad to see that animation is not merely surviving on the Hollywood scene, but evolving and thriving. As long as you have Disney and Pixar, Hollywood, I think you’ll be all right.

I could go on, but that’s probably enough for one letter. I hope it doesn’t seem too harsh or demanding. For all of my grumbling, I really appreciate good movies, and I suppose I have you Hollywood people to thank for them. Thanks, ladies and gentlemen, for making my life a little brighter, and occasionally a little more explode-y.



P.S. I don’t suppose there’s any chance you could just put Disney’s John Lasseter in charge of everything? No? Well, there was no harm in asking.