So, with the breaking news that the U.S. has been extensively logging an unimaginable gamut of personal information from Internet users around the globe with their PRISM program, I’m sure I’m not the only person to immediately think back on Dark Knight‘s cell phone surveillance system.

In Christopher Nolan’s film, Batman resorts to such an extreme form of surveillance to combat the Joker, a relentless psychopath. The device is designed to monitor the citizens of Gotham by constructing composite images based on snatched cell phone signals. Lucious Fox finds this tool inherently abhorrent, and Batman partially acknowledges this by allowing Fox to destroy the device once it has served its singular purpose. Unlike in the real world, Batman’s cell phone surveillance is kept a secret from the population; only Batman, Fox, and the privileged audience are aware of its existence and use. Of course, all of this is very Orwellian, reeking of Big Brother all over, but engaging that would be another essay, so I’ll stick to Dark Knight for now.

Audiences should see this trope in Dark Knight as an allegory for authorities dealing with terrorism. The film reflects the dichotomy of security and civil liberty, a theme that has become more common in post-9/11 North American popular culture.

The Dark Knight's Big Brother?

In light of the news that governments have been actively conducting widespread surveillance of Internet and cell phone communications, it is most crucial that we understand why people are enraged by this invasion of privacy. So, let’s consider how fiction may contrast with reality.

When you think of President Obama do you instantly think “He’s just like Batman?” Perhaps, but I think that may be a bit of a stretch.

How about Prime Minister Harper? Does he inspire associations with Batman? Doubtful.

I make this silly contrast for a reason. Just follow me for a moment along this train of thought. As fans of Batman, audiences tend to think of him as the ultimate zenith of human intelligence and performance. That’s fine. Fans also tend to have a tremendous amount of blind faith in Batman’s judgement. So, when we watch Dark Knight and see that Batman must resort to this type of widespread surveillance to catch the Joker, we feel this is an acceptable measure because HE’S BATMAN. There is no other reassurance made. He’s Batman. Trust him. That’s it. And, many of us will likely accept that reasoning and simply enjoy the story.

It must be OK; he's Batman.

However, events in the real world are strikingly different. Consider the following points:

Firstly, PRISM has been around for years now, trawling the Internet for personal information on everyone who is online. That may be an exaggeration, but I feel entitled to it. When Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, and others are allegedly cooperating in full with the PRSIM program, then I feel safe saying everyone online is being monitored. In contrast to Dark Knight, the real application of such surveillance is conducted on a much larger scale. Instead of monitoring a few million fictional citizens in Gotham, PRSIM monitors the communications and activities of billions of real, regular people around the world.

Secondly, Batman wanted to stop the Joker. That is a specific task with a definite endpoint. The so-called War On Terror is not like that at all. The War On Terror is ill-defined, vague, and without any foreseeable endpoint. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric; war is terror. With a perpetual state of war, there is no indication that governments would ever cease to avail of such a rich source of intel. So, unlike the faith we hold that Batman will use his device only to apprehend the Joker, it strikes me as entirely unlikely that any military or enforcement agency would relinquish their power in the same way.

Thirdly, neither Obama nor Harper are like Batman. As an idealized fictional superhero with a canon ranging from dark and gritty to bright and farcical, Batman sets an impossible standard to meet. That is a given. He is like a mythical hero, idolized by many. Leaders of state do not often achieve such unconditional approval ratings. Political scandals prevent the population from having a similar sense of faith in our leaders. Just look at the IRS’s alleged bias in targeting Republicans for financial scrutiny. Just look at the slew of scandals in Canada that mar Harper’s reign, especially the election fraud (a.k.a. the robocalls) and the Wright-Duffy expense scandal. The Harper Government already equates environmental activism with extremism, regarding it as a threat to national interests (read as “oil interests”). With such a wealth of personal data at their fingertips, we are supposed to believe that they won’t use it to gain political advantages? It seems fair to me to suspect such powerful figures would misuse the collected data. Since past behaviour is the best indicator of future behaviour, one can reasonably assume that our governments aren’t as trustworthy as Batman.

Following this rationale, concern about how governments will use this information is not merely some paranoid conspiracy theory; on the contrary, it seems a rather prudent line of thought. If world leaders were all as noble as Batman and terrorists were all as psychotic as the Joker, then this would be a simpler issue. But, it is not like that. The reality is far more complex. Leaders are often not saints, and “terrorists” are often seen as freedom fighters (you have seen Star Wars, right?). The real world is not as black and white as Gotham (nor Star Wars).

Now, discussing this very real issue in terms of how it relates to a Batman movie may be seen as diminishing the real importance of the issue. That is not what I intend to accomplish here. Instead, I hope to inspire audiences to consider real world events as they relate to the stories that are told. Not every tale is purely for entertainment; many storytellers communicate valuable lessons through metaphor, symbolism, and allegory.

For further material on why online spying conducted by governments should be a concern to everyday law-abiding folks please read Ian Brown’s piece in The Guardian or view this segment on DemocracyNow.org.

So, I was scouring the Internet for different works on the philosophy of language (why? because, that’s what I’m like) and I came across a text that I had a small hand in developing. I was surprised, and it felt a little surreal to see the finished product on my computer screen.

In the summer of 2007, while I was a graduate student pursuing my Master of Philosophy in Humanities at Memorial University, I was fortunate enough to work with Dr. Arthur Sullivan on an early manuscript of Reference and Structure in the Philosophy of Language: A Defense of the Russellian Orthodoxy.

Arthur Sullivan's Reference and Structure in the Philosophy of Language

I first had Sullivan as an instructor during my undergrad for propositional logic as well as a special seminar on the philosophy of language. It was a thoroughly stimulating experience, greatly influencing my later research as a grad student. I remember writing one paper for Sullivan on language, reference, Superman, and possible worlds. I lost that paper somewhere. I really wish I hadn’t.

Anyways, I recall it was an absolute pleasure proofreading the manuscript for Sullivan. The text dealt with ideas more complex than what I had encountered during my undergrad, of course, but it was a welcome challenge for me as I had recently finished my Bachelor of Arts degree with a Double Major in Philosophy and English Language and Literature. Reading that last bit, I suppose I was well-suited for the task of proofreading and offering feedback on Sullivan’s manuscript.

In the book, Sullivan interrogates the relationship between reference and structure, two foundational concepts in the philosophy of language. Make no mistake: this is a hefty task. Reference and Structure in the Philosophy of Language demonstrates that the notion of structure can be seen as the basis of various other important points in the theory of reference. Here, he expands upon the work of Bertrand Russell, Saul Kripke, David Kaplan, and Stephen Neale, to name a few, aiming to provide a simplified, comprehensive lens through which a variety of semantic phenomena can be better understood.

I am truly honoured to be thanked in the preface for the small role I played in the book’s development. In all honesty, it is I who should thank Arthur Sullivan for giving me the opportunity to work with him on his research.

It was a fantastic experience! Thanks, Arthur!

Cheers!
DR

In 1999, the League of Canadian Poets began celebrating April as National Poetry Month. By then, I was really only concerned with writing angry, cynical punk songs. Although I was writing a lot of poetry around ’93-98, my interests had shifted somewhat from poetry to lyrics. Perhaps if poetry held much of the public’s attention a little earlier in my life, then maybe that would’ve rubbed off on me and I may have stuck with it a little longer. Instead, when I stopped writing poetry, that’s just what it felt like – like I had stopped.

In any case, I’d like to take this opportunity, since it’s National Poetry Month and all, to share some of the poetry I had written when I was really into it, when it felt like something substantial. So, here are two poems, “Piss Off” and “Drone,” for you to celebrate this April for National Poetry Month. Celebrate!

PISS OFF

Please,
If you’re
So
Sorry,
Others would
Feel
Fine.

DRONE

You have your yellow jacket.
You have your Adidas pants.
You have your Top 40 radio.
You have the assurance
That as long as you
Stay within the safeguards of
Popular society, you’ll be “cool,”
But you don’t know what cool is,
Drone.

Each of these poems can be found in Fawning, Fear and Frustration: A Collection of Teenage Poetry from the 90s. Print and digital editions of this work can be found at Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.

As an extra special treat, just to reward you lucky readers who have read this far, here is a promo video for Fawning, Fear and Frustration where I read “Drone.” Love it.

Cheers!
Dave

Fawning, Fear and Frustration

Donate With PayPal

So, Fredric Wertham was a liar. In the 1950s, Wertham nearly destroyed the comic book industry, leading an overzealous attack on the whole medium based on his claims that crime comics caused juvenile delinquency. Understand that, in his usage, crime comics referred to any comic containing a criminal act, so all of the superhero comics were included in his criticism. At the time, he managed to rally enough angry parents through his fervor to lead the Crusade Against Comics, nearly crushing the comics industry with his testimony before the United States Senate’s Judiciary Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. Recently, Carol L. Tilley, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, revealed that Wertham grossly overstated his evidence.

I am not surprised by this, really. In my book, Superheroes: An Analysis of Popular Culture’s Modern Myths, I acknowledge the bias in Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, his laughably overzealous attack on the comics medium. However laughable it may have been, the book’s publication is commonly regarded as the event signalling the end of the Golden Age of Comics.

Tilley’s findings, having scoured Wertham’s vast depository of notes at the Library of Congress, indicate the differences between his research and his testimony. In her article, “Seducing the Innocent: Fredric Wertham and the Falsifications that Helped Condemn Comics,” Tilley reveals many discrepancies, some of which paint Wertham as even more conservative and homophobic than one would have previously thought. Wertham completely misconstrued his evidence in his testimony to the Subcommittee. He did this in a number of ways, such as by combining accounts from multiple cases into a singular, more convincing case, as if the many were just one patient. At times, he would omit evidence that was inconvenient for or contrary to his argument. Furthermore, Wertham would pass off hearsay as if he witnessed the events himself. Clearly, Tilley’s paper discredits Wertham’s worth as an expert.

So, how do these revelations affect how I have covered Wertham in Superheroes? Ultimately, I think it has little bearing on my own arguments regarding Wertham’s work. I readily acknowledge that his argument was overzealous, and it’s not a big step to accept that he exaggerated his findings beyond what can be acceptable. I write in Superheroes that “The soundest portion of Wertham’s heated criticism is that art is a mode of communication. As we take in art as entertainment, we take in its messages constantly and the content of art’s messages may influence us.” I stand by that interpretation. My argument really only acknowledges the validity of the most basic foundation of Wertham’s position. Beyond that, his testimony has lost whatever credibility it may have clung to over the years.

Superheroes: An Analysis of Popular Culture's Modern Myths

Cheers, folks!

I am pleased to announce I have founded my own publishing house, Problematic Press! I’m really excited about this endeavour, since I’ll basically get to publish whatever I please. Oh, don’t worry. It won’t all be pornography. (I’ll just have to publish that under a pen name.) haha! No, but, seriously, I’m in love with the prospects here.

Although Problematic Press is a small, independent venture, it will deliver a broad range of material. I’d like to draw attention to works of Newfoundland literature, Canadian literature, as well as other imaginative works from such genres as speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction, pulp fiction, non-fiction, comics, and children’s books. I plan to produce original works as well as popular classics, emphasizing texts that challenge readers. Indeed, there’s a lot I’d like to do with Problematic Press, and this is just the beginning.

The first Problematic Press publication (note: I really dig alliteration) will be Robert Hayman’s Quodlibets, which was quite likely the first piece of English literature written in North America. Hayman was Governor of the British colony in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland in the early 1600s, and he penned this collection of more than 350 epigrams. This edition features my own adaptation of the Middle English poetry into more contemporary English, in order to make the text more accessible to today’s audience. Hayman’s epigrams reflect upon matters ranging from spirituality to politics and are, collectively, an appeal to British citizens to settle in the Newfound-land. Quodlibets portrays the reflections and attitudes of one of Newfoundland’s, and also North America’s, founding fathers in unabashed eloquence.

So, please check out the Problematic Press website and “Like” the Facebook page! Tell your literati friends about Problematic Press!

Cheers!

David Reynolds
Problematic Press

“Hey, Ma! I’m on the Internet!”

Yup, I sure am! Haha! This past May I delivered a talk entitled “Divergent Thinking” at TEDxStJohns, and that talk is now online on YouTube. You can watch it here.

The theme of this TEDx conference was Overcoming Adversity, and my own take on that theme considers how creative thinking can help us when we’re faced with everyday problems or obstacles. It may sound cliché, but thinking outside the box is an important skill, one we can practice and develop. I feel strongly that if we encourage critical and creative thinking more, then we would all find problem solving a much easier and more intuitive process. It’s a light-hearted take on the theme, and I discuss divergent thinking in terms of my own experience as an emerging writer.

The message I want to emphasize is very much in the spirit of a couple of Sir Ken Robinson’s talks – one for TED and one for RSA. I’m not saying my own presentation matches his charisma nor his brilliance, but we have similar intentions. I also see that sort of encouragement in those recent PBS Digital Studio videos that autotune-remix Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross. Both are totally awesome, so I’m sharing those here, too. Haha!

Anyways, I have to say, TEDxStJohns was a wild ride! Whatever nerves and stage fright I experienced was totally worth it; it was a great experience! So, I’d like to send a shout out and a big thanks to all of the TEDxStJohns organizers, speakers, performers, volunteers, attendees, and the broader TED community for making this thing happen and letting me be a part of it. Thanks! It was awesome!

Cheers!
Dave

The Crow's Problem

The Crow's Solution

Yes, it’s true. Although they’ve been available as e-books for quite some time now, both of my previous works are now available in print! I don’t know about you, but this feels like a big deal to me! I know I’m stoked, at least. ha!

Indeed, both of my e-books now have print editions. And, this comes directly on the heels of TEDxStJohns (which was an amazing experience). It’s been quite a week for this dude right here. *points thumbs at myself* Actually, if it wasn’t for TEDxStJohns, I don’t know if I would have reached this point. Working on my TEDx talk, I started to look into self-publishing in print again. I should also thank Morgan Murray of Words in Edgewise for pointing me towards Amazon‘s print-on-demand service, CreateSpace. On top of that, let me just thank everyone who has ever been supportive of my writing efforts. I really appreciate all the encouragement!

But, that’s enough praise for others; this is my blog, so let’s return to my books in print. *ridiculously happy smiley face* If you’d like to purchase any of my works, I’ve created a Canadian Shop and a U.S. Shop where you can find them all conveniently in the one place. Links to each store are also placed in the main menu near the top of the blog. Besides that, there are a variety of channels where you can purchase my works in print and e-book formats. So, to promote some kind of freedom of consumer choice, let me list some of those here:

You can buy directly from CreateSpace
Paperback: Superheroes: An Analysis of Popular Culture’s Modern Myths
Paperback: Fawning, Fear and Frustration: A Collection of Teenage Poetry from the 90s

You can buy from Amazon.ca
Paperback: Superheroes: An Analysis of Popular Culture’s Modern Myths
Paperback: Fawning, Fear and Frustration: A Collection of Teenage Poetry from the 90s

You can buy from Amazon.com
Paperback: Superheroes: An Analysis of Popular Culture’s Modern Myths
E-book: Superheroes: An Analysis of Popular Culture’s Modern Myths
Paperback: Fawning, Fear and Frustration: A Collection of Teenage Poetry from the 90s
E-book: Fawning, Fear and Frustration: A Collection of Teenage Poetry from the 90s

Or you can visit one of my stores to find my own works along with some recommendations. My stores are powered by Amazon, so if your total purchase is over $25, then you qualify for FREE shipping! (* Certain conditions apply. See Amazon.ca for details, or see Amazon.com for details.) That’s partially why I have included recommended works in the store. The other reason is because those are some fantastic books and comics! You should read them!

Ultimately… I’m blown away by my recent good fortune! Thank YOU so much for helping me get here!

Cheers!
Dave

UPDATE: Superheroes: An Analysis of Popular Culture’s Modern Myths is presently (as of 3:45PM, June 3, 2012) available on Amazon.ca and it is eligible for FREE Super Saver Shipping! There was an issue with this before, but it seems to be fixed now. Thanks for your patience, and sorry for any inconvenience.