Sunday’s Wisdom #337: Dangerous Pedestals

“The danger with people like him… is that we put them on pedestals. They become symbols, icons, and then we start to forget about their flaws. From there… innocent people die, movements are formed, wars are fought.”
– Baron Helmut Zemo, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Season 1, Episode 3, “Power Broker”

In this (slightly redacted) quote, Zemo is referring specifically to the idea of super soldiers like Captain America, and how we people idolize such, putting them on pedestals because of what they can do, giving them more power because they already have more power, when, really, they’re just other human beings. With all that power in such flawed hands, well, it inevitably all goes to crap and people suffer for it.

Zemo is, in a way, on to something, but it’s more general than he thinks. I have noticed many times that we, as human beings, tend to either deify or demonize each other. People are either heroes or villains, angels or demons, good or bad, through and through. It’s a terribly flawed perspective, yet sadly common as well, despite how short-sighted, two-dimensional, self-limiting, and even destructively dangerous it is.

Take the relationship between a parent and a child, for instance. The parent may see the child as an angelic baby, and the child may see the parent as an immaculate figure of godlike prestige and power. And then, as the child grows, the flaws begin to emerge, the disagreements, the arguments, until the parent is a hypocritical tyrant and the growing child is a stubborn, savage little demon who has surely been led astray by some foreign influence. From there, the conflicts may eventually settle into a mutual understanding that they are both simply human, or they may erupt into bitter, lifelong disputes. All because they could only see each other as one thing or the other, as either angelic or demonic, godlike or pathetic.

Almost every view that we have of our fellow humans follows that basic pattern. Public figures and celebrities can be adored one moment and then savagely attacked by their own fans and supporters in the next breath, the instant they do something “imperfect.” Or the other way around, the moment the guy nobody likes does something good and useful, people tolerate them better, even like them in a strange way. Or maybe, as is sadly common, they support a particular leader no matter what, without question, as if they can do no wrong. It’s ridiculous, and dangerous. Sure, it enabled George Washington as a leader, but it also enabled the tyranny of Adolf Hitler. It is the essence of cancel culture, of censorship, and so much worse. It is the air breathed by empires and rebellions alike. All because of the pedestals that people use for others, and often crave for themselves.

How many heroes have been entirely condemned for a single wrong they did? How many times have the villains done something terrible only to be forgiven, or otherwise given some slack, the moment they do something the audience thinks of as good? Heck, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is practically a case study (especially on the heels of WandaVision) in how the audience reacts in rabid praise or condemnation of the people on the screen (character and actor alike) and of each other as well, based on whatever opinion we dare to voice.

I wonder what it is about us that we have to try and peg everyone around us in some sort of moral pecking order. Does it help us understand where we are, ourselves? I don’t think so. I think it just gives us a chance to think we are better than some people, while also giving us an excuse not to try and better ourselves because, on some level, we think we can’t be as good as such-and-such person that we’ve placed higher in our moral pecking order. And then comes the bitter disappointment if one “higher up” does not meet our expectations.

I don’t always succeed, but I try, very hard, to avoid looking at the people around me like that. I try, instead, to just see the person, the fellow human, who is doing the best that they know how. I can learn from them, and they can learn from me, and we can all improve ourselves together. That’s what it means to work together: no one is better or worse, we just do our best and support each other.

That is unity, and it comes, first and foremost, in avoiding the mentality of pedestals.

No matter our station, our position, our power… we’re all just people.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #336: Meet in the Middle

“We can’t demand that people step up if we don’t meet them halfway.”
– Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Season 1, Episode 6, “One World, One People”

Yes, I have enjoyed this show, and especially Sam, quite a bit. 😉

Sam Wilson is saying these words to some of the more powerful people in the world. These are people who are trying to decide what to do in the wake of tumultuous events, and, frankly, they have not been doing a very good job. They’ve done poorly enough that a few desperate people have tried to stop them with violence, and who can blame them when they’re fighting for their lives and the lives of everyone like them? But these powerful people, the moment they’re safe, they continue on as they have been. And Sam calls them on it. He speaks simply and sincerely to the need for humans to work together to overcome these and all other tumultuous events. To that end, people can’t just dismiss each other, making demands and offering nothing in return.

There is something about that which I think people desperately need to remember these days. Sure, a lot of this speech goes towards things I don’t personally believe (it’s Disney, we disagree on a number of political matters), but the one thing that I wish people would remember is, quite simply: you just can’t ask for everything you want without giving something back.

Give a little, get a little, back and forth, together, until we meet in the middle.

The world is overrun with people who want to get everything without giving anything. They want to have happiness without building it, as needs to happen. They want to get paid without working, to lie without being called a liar, to cheat without ever being held accountable, to break the rules without facing the consequences. But most of all, most pointedly, in this instance, they want their political views to be accepted and enforced without ever listening to the other side of the argument. They just dismiss it, and entire swathes of our population, as casually as brushing aside a fly.

There inevitably follows, from this casual ignorance of another human’s perspective, a devaluation of that human as a human. They become stats on a sheet of paper, a label in a political conversation, a noise to be ignored, a stain to be cleansed and forgotten, an obstacle to be removed without compassion. There is no real working with someone who we see like that, or who sees us like that.

The frustration I have felt when people I have known for a long time completely ignore what I have to say, responding with pat-answer insults and willful ignorance of everything I say, is immense. It gets to me sometimes, and I just want to scream and break things like a poltergeist. I listen, and I listen, and I listen to them, and they do not listen to me. That is the sentiment that many, many people are feeling, because one side does nothing but make demands and refuses to listen, refuses to give any ground, refuses to work with the people on “the other side.” Completely forgetting that it’s not really about sides, it’s about finding practical solutions to urgent problems.

As humans, we can be stubborn, hard-headed creatures, with passions and prejudices aplenty all around. But we have to learn to give a little ground for each other. We have to. And the first step, the first inch, that we have to give is: “I don’t agree with you, I don’t understand your point of view, but I am willing to sit here and listen to your side anyway, because you are a human being like me, and I’m sure you have good reasons for what you believe, so, come on, let’s work together and find a way for everyone to get something out of this. Talk with me.”

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Sunday’s Wisdom #335: A Hopeful Point to the Pain

“What would be the point of all the pain and sacrifice if I wasn’t willing to stand up and keep fighting?”
– Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Season 1, Episode 5, “Truth”

One might be able to tell that I am greatly enjoying this show, and especially the character of Sam Wilson, the Falcon.

Sam is a man well-acquainted with pain, both his own and that of others. He has given much for what he believes in, what he loves, and he has seen the sacrifices of others with clear, unclouded eyes. He is not at all naive about the world and how good people get hurt, and suffer, and lose important things.

The question isn’t simply whether someone understands that or not, but what they do with that knowledge.

Sam has seen old friends became jaded and nihilistic. He has seen old enemies actually trying to do what they think is right, but do so without any light of hope in their eyes. He has seen good men die, heroes fall to corruption, and hopeful idealists turn to terrorism and murder. All of them are dealing with the darkness of the world, with everything they’ve lost and suffered, and it turns many of them bitter, hateful, and destructive.

But the wrongs of the world are nothing new.

Tyrants and traitors have victimized many in the world, for thousands of years. For generations upon generations, men of honor have died for their cause, only for that cause, and their people, and their names, to be trodden under and forgotten. The powerful have always preyed upon the powerless. Good and bad people alike lose important things. Victims are made every day without having done anything to deserve it. Lies, abuse, and neglect have destroyed countless relationships, and countless people have succumbed to the bitterness of their failures.

These are not new things. They have been with us for as long as we have existed.

And yet, we persevere.

We stand up.

We join the ranks of those who are willing to give their all, generation after generation. We reach out in kindness and understanding to support those in need, to heal wounds of the spirit with loving words, loving deeds, and shared tears. We hold up the ideals that past generations have bled for, and we work to raise a generation to whom we can pass the torch. We get up, make our beds, brush our teeth, do our jobs, fulfill our obligations, savor all the happy moments we can make, and give everything we can to help our neighbors, our communities. We volunteer at shelters and libraries. We speak up instead of staying silent in the face of evil. We march, we petition, we vote. We keep fighting for what is right, the best way we know how, even though the world itself may be against us.

This we do because we remember what we have, in humility. This we do because we are willing to persevere, in courage. This we do to preserve the light in our lives for the future, in hope. This we do in honor of all the pain and sacrifice that has already happened, in determination.

Some say that the existence of such pain means that we can never win, that each sacrifice is doomed to be in vain.

I say that the existence of such pain, such sacrifice and darkness, is itself a reason to fight on.

I say that the greatest insult we can give to those who have suffered, including ourselves, is to give up, to let it all be in vain on our watch.

The world will be what it is, yes. But what would be the point of it all if we didn’t keep trying to make the world better anyway?

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Sunday’s Wisdom 334: The Limits of Bloodshed

“Blood isn’t always the answer.”
– Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Season 1, Episode 4, “The Whole World is Watching”

For as long as humans have existed, we have struggled to survive. It is the way of nature itself to kill or be killed, to eat or be eaten, and that has been imprinted on human nature for longer than our recorded history. Something threatens us, hurts us, takes what is ours, we strike back and we kill it. The only times we beware, avoid, or appease, instead of kill, is when we literally can’t kill it. That’s why every tyrant in history has been so invested in keeping their subjects afraid of them.

When Sam says these words, he is saying it whilst practically surrounded by people for whom blood is the only answer they really know.

On the one hand, there is a group of who want to live peaceful lives, but have been displaced by recent catastrophes and abandoned by the powers that be who promised to help them. (side-rant: do not trust in far-away powers that be for help) For them, they’re trying to help people, but they’ve engaged in unsavory acts which are escalating in violence and it’s turning their arguably-just cause into just another a bloodbath. And this group is, in turn, being hunted by a shadowy puppeteer who fully intends to add their own blood to the slaughter.

On the other hand, there are the legitimate authorities of the world who do not like their boat being rocked. These sent some of their finest soldiers to apprehend or kill the pesky little revolutionaries for them, and when one of these soldiers is killed in action… well, his comrade responds with primal, murderous, merciless fury. One of his own has been taken, and he immediately seeks blood for blood.

And then there’s yet another rogue element in this entire equation. The man that Sam is speaking to in this scene is one who has already demonstrated his capacity for seeking bloodshed in answer for his own losses. In this particular moment, though, he expresses a desire for the wholesale destruction of those who possess unnatural advantages over their fellow man. What he refers to is superhumans, but if one were to extend that to its logical conclusion, then it would include all other artificial advantages like advanced technology, skills acquired through a lifetime of training and experience, and, of course, money and social connections. Ultimately, he is not being so logical, and is merely playing god in another bloodstained way.

Sam is the one who understands that, at some point, spilling blood doesn’t solve every single problem.

The people who are trying to help could have gone down a different path, away from all the terror and fear and blood, and probably accomplished more for it, for a lot less risk.

The man who goes murderously crazy when his friend is killed in front of him has every right to his anger, but he had no right to commit murder himself, and it will only make things worse and worse.

And as appealing an image as it might be to anyone when they envision a world cleansed of all those who they deem to be threats in some way, there is no way to accomplish that without becoming a monster that is pretending to be a god. Which, even if one were willing and able to do that, it still wouldn’t make for a lasting peace.

There is no real peace without making a much more human connection. We have to realize, on a fundamental level, that we really are all in this together.

Sometimes the answer lies in helping each other, instead of hurting each other.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #333: Greater Worth

“A jewel has brilliant fire, but it gives no warmth. Our hands are not so soft, but they can serve; our bodies not so white, but they are strong; our lips are not perfumed, but they speak the truth. Love is not an art to us, it is life to us. We are not dressed in gold and fine linen. Strength and honor are our clothing. Our tents are not the columned halls of Egypt, but our children play happily before them. We can offer you little, but we offer all we have. …’Nothing’ from some is more than gold from others.”
– Sephora, The Ten Commandments

A classic from decades ago, The Ten Commandments depicts the life of Moses, albeit in a rather sensationalized manner. At this point in the story, Moses has left Egypt, including everything and everyone he has ever known, including a woman who was most alluring and, unknown to him, also most cutthroat and merciless, quick to commit murder in order to further her own ends. Moses is now bereft of everything, but has found a new people, a humble people, including a man named Jethro and his several daughters. The daughters dance and hope he’d pick one of them to marry, but his heart was no longer dazzled by such displays. Instead, he talks to Sephora, the one who did not dance, and the more they talk, the more her words, simple and sincere, fall upon his aching heart and heal it.

The emptiness of his loss is filled not with shining gold and fiery jewels, those treasures of the world, so cold and hard. Those fine things are not bad, in and of themselves, but they are often distractions from things that matter far more: warmth and life, truth and true love, integrity and hard work, charity, humility, happiness, and the pure, free laughter of children at play, among other things. These are humble things, everyday things, precious things, more valuable than all the treasures of the world combined. Yet they are also overlooked, because they cannot be held and owned, they cannot be exchanged, spent, bought, bartered, or lent, and they can be had by the poor as easily as by the rich.

A wealthy CEO pledges a small fortune to a charitable cause, not really missing the money and, as it happens, getting a nice tax write-off in the bargain, not to mention good publicity. A child empties their piggy bank of their entire savings to give to that same cause. Who has given more?

A rich man offers a beautiful girl a life of luxury and ease. A poor farmer offers her love. Who offers more?

A king bestows honors and gold upon their heroic allies, while an impoverished family offers a soldier, in their most desperate hour, shelter and safety and what meager food they have to share, and that soldier offers their very life in defense of the kingdom. A young, curvaceous woman offers all manner of pleasure for an evening, while another woman offers a lifetime of love and loyalty. A political player offers connections and opportunities and so many flatteries, while a father offers protection and a brother offers blunt and brutal honesty. Who is offering and giving more?

What is of more worth, in the end? The things we can hold in our hands, or the things we can hold in our hearts?

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War of Mortal Gods… NEEDS EDITING!!! War of Mortal Gods (Book One): EVO Universe Presentation eBook: Ewers, Kipjo K.: Kindle StoreI am just going to get this part out of the way:

It’s “refrain,” not “reframe,” as in “please refrain from doing that.”

And it’s “lest,” not “less,” as in “don’t irritate me lest I smite you.”

And it’s “cosmivore,” like herbivore, carnivore, and omnivore, not “cosmivorse.” There is no “carnivorse.”

I do not know if the author himself managed to get all three of those wrong every single time he wrote them, which was quite often, or if some editor or editing software somewhere is to blame, but, either way, it drove me batty.

On that opening note, I have to say that War of Mortal Gods: Book One rather clearly demonstrates that the quality of Kipjo Ewers’ EVO Universe, consisting of The First, EVO Uprising, Eye of Ra, and Genesis, is quite clearly in decline.

I hate to be so harsh, especially with an author whose work I have so enjoyed. So, let’s back up a bit and put this into context.

One of Ewers’ greatest strengths has always been a writing style that could easily be converted into something visual, especially movies. This time around, however, that very strength seems to have turned against him. Instead of describing things so that they can be vividly visualized by anyone, he uses shortcuts, as if he’s talking to some artist on the project whose job it is to take broad descriptions and come up with detailed appearances. The word “amalgamation” was used a number of times, describing how something looks as if it were a combination of things that human Earthlings might be familiar with. And that was it.

Which, it was also a bit strange to be getting such comparisons whilst seeing things from the perspective of aliens who had no such familiarity with Earth. We got Earth-based amalgamations, but without any idea of what the aliens thought or felt about what they were seeing. If, instead, we truly saw through their eyes, saw what they felt seeing their own planet, that would be something else entirely. Do they see strength? Decay? A shell? A gilded flower with veiled power? But we got nothing of that. It was just… vague instructions for someone else who had the responsibility making things visible.

For that matter, I have also enjoyed how easy it was for us, the audience, to connect with the various heroes, so powerful but also so human. We got to spend time seeing them be human. At least, we got that in previous novels. In War of Mortal Gods, most of the time was spent being dramatic instead. Very little actually happened outside some oh-so-epic thumb-twiddling. The heroes basically just waited, or flailed around a bit, before all Hell broke loose at the cliffhanger, while the villains plotted and plotted and plotted and PLOTTED until the moment they finally made their move. Seriously, we did not need so many chapters establishing how evil and savage the villains are, and much more graphically (and uncomfortably) than we were shown in previous novels. With so much being made to happen, and so little actually happening, there was something of a disconnect with the characters in general.

I suppose one could say War of Mortal Gods went the way of DC rather than Marvel, where the story was about what the heroes and villains could do, and about their conflict – or, more specifically, the prolonged setup of their conflict – rather than about them as characters.

But perhaps the overall problem could be summed up more succinctly: War of Mortal Gods is just in dire, severe, overwhelming need of editing. The timeline of it, and Genesis, needs a bit of work, but most of all, the overall plot of this war needs to be streamlined, with things actually happening, instead of being promised to happen, and with the characters developing, instead of simply going through the various obstacles in their way. I can see how this is only the first quarter of the saga – or, rather, the second part of the saga, as it picks up directly after Genesis ends – but I can also see this novel having been heavily edited to about a quarter, or maybe a third, of its length, making room for the rest of the saga to be included in the same novel.

I won’t advise Ewers to go back to the drawing board, as that ship has now set sail, but he may want to vigorously reassess how he is managing his story.

Rating: 5 stars out of 10.

Grade: D.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #332: Rise Above the Hate

“Oh, I see, so the white man give you a couple a stripes, and suddenly you start hollerin’ and orderin’ everybody around, like you the massa himself! Nigger, you ain’t nothin’ but the white man’s dog!”

And what are you? So full of hate you want to go out and fight everybody! Because you’ve been whipped and chased by hounds. Well that might not be living, but it sure as hell ain’t dying. And dying’s been what these white boys have been doing for going on three years now! Dying by the thousands! Dying for you, fool! I know, ’cause I dug the graves. And all this time I keep askin’ myself, when, O Lord, when it’s gonna be our time? Gonna come a time when we all gonna hafta ante up. Ante up and kick in like men. LIKE MEN! You watch who you call a nigger! If there’s any niggers around here, it’s YOU. Just a smart-mouthed, stupid-ass, swamp-runnin’ nigger! And if you not careful, that’s all you ever gonna be!”

– Private Trip and Sergeant Major John Rawlins, Glory

Oh, how I love a proper kick in the teeth of all things racist and prejudicial.

Glory is a depiction of the historical, all-black 54th Regiment of Massachusetts during the American Civil War. It was the first time that black men were permitted to serve in the Union’s military, and their courage and sacrifice enabled many others to do so both during and after the war. This was accomplished when many of them, including their white commander, were killed in action as they attempted to storm a Confederate fort. That rather put a damper on anyone’s outrage (and there was outrage) that black men were permitted to serve alongside white. And when the bodies were buried a mass grave, the Confederates intended it to be an insult when they buried the white commander alongside his black soldiers, but it was probably the greatest honor they ever unintentionally paid to an enemy.

This particular exchange occurs between two of the black soldiers in question, as they’re in training. Trip and Rawlins are both volunteers, but Trip is full of hate and anger towards all white men, due to how he has suffered at white hands. But Rawlins has been a grave digger, and he’s buried many, many white men who gave their lives trying to right those very same wrongs. Does Trip have a right to be angry over what was done to him? Yes. But he’s let that anger cloud his mind and poison his soul. Rawlins has gone the other way, choosing to be his best self, and praying for a chance not to strike at the white man, but to stand alongside him.

That speaks to me on a deep level. I see many people today who were never slaves and never suffered under Jim Crow and never lost a loved one to a KKK lynching… no, instead, they’ve been given welfare from the cradle and they’re given scholarships for the color of their skin… yet they are filled with hate towards people who never did them any wrong. And I see many white people who never owned a slave, never hanged a black man, and never refused a black man anything, and yet they are being taught to hate themselves for the color of their skin. Both of these people forget.

White people marched alongside black people during the Civil Rights Movement. White people hung alongside black people when they refused to kowtow to the KKK. White people fought and died alongside black people during the Civil War. White people risked and sometimes lost their lives alongside the black people they helped in the Underground Railroad.

Did the white man commit terrible, unspeakable atrocities against the black man in decades and centuries past? Yes. That cannot be denied and must not be forgotten. But that is not all the white man did.

But the black child is taught to be angry, as the white child is taught to be ashamed. Carefully, carefully taught, as it says in a certain famous musical which I may quote more entirely at another time. These become angry black adults and self-hating white adults. And once you let that much anger faster for so long, it can be all but impossible to cleanse one’s soul of it. Spread that anger far and wide enough, and everything cracks at the seams as people strike out in blind, mindless hatred, more like vicious animals than like human beings, causing immense suffering, and especially inflicting agony on the innocent.

This movie came out in 1989. Two decades after Rawlins’ prophetic warning, look where we are.

Somehow… somehow we have to stop it. We have to remember all of our history, both the good and the bad. We have to rise above the wrongs that have been done, both way back then and those which are done today. We have to forget our hatred and stop teaching our children that same hatred. We have to choose to be humans, always, and never animals. We have to remember those who came before have already fought and died and been buried together. We have to remember that we are all the same. We have to choose to be better, not worse. We have to raise ourselves and each other above the pain, and anger, and hate.

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The Poetic Deaths of the Homunculi in FMA: Brotherhood

Two words: poetic death.

In the whole of storytelling, there are very few things that are truly more satisfying than seeing a villain get their just deserts in a truly poetic manner. Of course, the most common idea is simply for their own actions to come back and bite them, their own power rebounding, their own decisions sealing their doom. It’s tried and true, and enjoyable, but, still, not that unexpected.

Poetry, you see, is renowned for the formulas it follows, the patterns and rhythms and rhymes… and yet, while such might be easily repeated, it is the more subtle forms of poetry which linger and haunt us. It’s not easy at all to create such beauty in the written word, and most of those who try just spew mindless dribble and doggerel. But those who succeed create true works of art with nothing more than their words! And the best art in any medium is that which entertains and enlightens both in the moment and for years to come.

Yes, I love those moments where, yeeeeears after last consuming a work of art, such as a quality story, one suddenly has those moments of realization: “NO! WAY!”

I recently had such a moment, when I contemplated the ways in which the humonculi of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood each meet their doom.

For a quick review:

The Ouroboros means wholeness or infinity, as Father was trying to achieve. It’s also a snake eating itself, it’s own power being it’s undoing. Coincidence?

The seven humonculi correspond, and are named after, the seven deadly sins of the Judeo-Christian tradition. They were created by their father, apparently the first humonculus, who was a being summoned from some extra-dimensional plane of existence. This creature manipulated the rulers of an ancient kingdom so that it could harvest the souls of everyone within it, breaking free of its constraints and gaining great power. It wanted more, so it moved on to the next place where the necessary conditions could be met, and spawned the seven homunculi both to act as its servants and to somehow set itself apart from humans by expelling their sinful urges from itself. Over the centuries, they cause a great deal of suffering and countless innocent deaths.

Their deaths were long overdue, but I suddenly realized just how poetic most – possible all – of their deaths truly are, given which sins they represent and how they do so. It took me by surprise, because, one, two, or even three examples of poetic death, out of seven or eight, would be pretty well done, but all of them? Color me impressed! I am awestruck to think this was done so artistically, so skillfully, and right in front of my nose without my ever realizing it until now!

Obviously, significant spoilers follow, so: Spoiler Alert!

Going more or less in order of their fatalities (though I do not have a photographic memory, so, forgive me if I get the order slightly off), the poetic deaths of the homunculi are as follows:

Lust Burns

This one probably requires the least amount of explanation. The embodiment of physical desire, Lust is a sexy woman who uses her charms to get close to her victims, and then she shreds them to pieces. But she meets her match (pun not intended, but accepted anyway) in the form of a most popular gentleman, the Flame Alchemist, Roy Mustang. He is able to withstand her blows and gets up again. When burning her once or twice fails, he doubles down in determination and ignites an unending, raging inferno around her, testing just how resilient she really is, bringing her to her knees, and reducing her to ashes.

The parallels between physical lust and fire has been expounded on throughout our history, so no need to belabor that point. Interesting detail, though, how she is burnt to death specifically by a man. I guess not all men are subject to lust after all.

On which note, it is interesting that Lust is burned as she stands between Roy, whom she has injured, and Riza Hawkeye, whom she just tormented with Roy’s supposed death. All the fans ship those two, and there is plenty of circumstantial evidence to support that ship. Coincidence, then, that Lust burns to nothing after hurting these two?

Gluttony is Eaten

From start to finish, Gluttony is all about eating. He is relentless, apparently to the point that his innards actually open up to become an all-consuming monster, with naught but an endless void within his belly. How many people did he scarf down his obscene gullet? But then the black jaws of death closed on him instead.

Gluttony and Pride were both being beaten by the combined efforts of Edward Elric, two chimera warriors, two warriors from Xing, and another homunculus, Greed. Against all of these, they were well on their way to losing and being annihilated. But Pride suddenly had an idea, and acted on it. To survive, he needed to restore himself, and the handiest way to do that was to take Gluttony’s Philosopher Stone into himself. Pride found this thought… appetizing! And so he surrounded Gluttony with tendrils of shadows, and struck with a massive jaw, literally biting him in half, before the smaller shadows plundered the body like a flock of vultures stripping flesh from the dead.

And thus endeth Gluttony, devoured. Not simply killed, or absorbed, or anything else. He is specifically eaten.

Envy Self-Destructs

Envy is a tricky little bugger to nail down. It takes many forms, as does the homonculus who represents it. It can seem like a great monster, a massive green creature of overwhelming size and suffering, but really it’s just this insignificant worm that latches on to people and excuses their viciousness in their own minds. Envy is the one homonculus who gets taken down repeatedly, in several ways, but it’s not until it is truly understood, that its cruel spite and terrible view of all humans and human nature are nothing more than a manifestation of its own jealousy, that its will is finally broken. Finally laid bare and broken, perfectly powerless, Envy pulls out its own Philosopher’s Stone and crushes it, committing suicide.

Envy existed by looking down on others. When it was reduced to being honestly pitied, it just couldn’t take it. There was nothing left for the green-eyed monster to consume but itself, as it always does.


Hands down, the one that gave me the hardest time defining their death as poetic! There’s a bit of reaching involved in this one, so I’m not sure if this was the exception, or if it’s the most subtle poetry in this entire list.

Sloth, of course, is synonymous with “lazy” and “indolent.” And the first time we see Sloth, he is taking a nap and having to be told to get back to work. He finishes the job, and then he proves that he isn’t just the biggest, he’s also the fastest homunculus. Which is a scary-effective combination, when this hulking wall of muscle can instantaneously become a living battering ram. It took an overwhelming amount of force to bring that creature down, a literal army with allied alchemists, before the final few blows matched power for power. I always get a kick out of how this huge, mighty creature got tossed around like a rag doll in its final moments.

Which, the poetry of Sloth’s death can be considered in two way. Firstly, those who do nothing until they feel like it, just because they’re lazy, tend to get tossed around by the events which surround them, and they are completely helpless. It seemed a little off-kilter for a poetic death, though, but the second way reaches deeper into the original meaning of “sloth,” and why it’s such a sin. See, the old word that got translated as “sloth” has more to it than mere laziness. Sloth, in that sense, is a withholding of one’s talents, skills, abilities, and effort, depriving the world, the work of God, and oneself of all the worthy contributions one might make, and, if there is one thing which is manifestly true, righting everything wrong with this world will take everyone’s help, everyone’s effort and skills, together.

And how is Sloth killed? By the efforts of many people, especially soldiers who are sworn to serve, working together, each and every one doing everything they can and refusing to back down for any reason.

Hmmm… makes one think a bit, doesn’t it?

Wrath Ends in Violence

If there is one depiction of the sins which I don’t entirely agree with, it’s Wrath. Mind you, there is a good deal of validity to his portrayal. As Fuhrer King Bradley, he’s lost an eye and gained the Ultimate Eye – an eye for an eye – and he has no flashy super powers, no blinding speed, writhing shadows, shape-shifting, or anything else. He has only the eye he lost and gained, and his brutal, precise skill with his blades. It’s pure and primal. He is always on the verge of spilling blood, even when it’s merely because a young girl who just lost her father is crying. And in the clinch moment, when his life is on the line, he opines how everything else doesn’t matter, just the instinct to survive, and to kill. Small wonder his life ends in violence.

What I dislike about Wrath’s depiction is… wrath is anger over a perceived wrong which has been done. Anger is sorrow, and sorrow is rooted in love. But King Bradley has no love, no sorrow, and no anger, really. The wrongs done to him were done by the ones he serves, not by the people he hurts.

Interesting, though, that Wrath’s final enemy is Scar, a man who this homunculus, and his master, did much to wrong. They slaughtered his people in a war that claimed his brother. He arose after nearly dying and took vengeance on the nearest culprit, as he saw it, which, tragically were a pair of innocent doctors who had just saved his life. Scar was very much a vessel of wrath himself, destroying many, and even targeting those who had nothing to do with the wrongs done to him. That is until he suddenly realized what he had become, and he chose to change his ways.

It was very poetic that Scar, who had been so wrathful, faced Wrath himself in the final battle. He faced one who was directly part of the wrongs done to his people, and he faced his own demons. He even, it could be argued, did so with the blessing of his god, a being that Wrath denies, but whose hand may just have provided that “coincidence” which tipped the scales finally in Scar’s favor.

It is also poetic that another came to face Wrath, keen on taking vengeance for a slaughtered father. But alas, her wrath was left unfulfilled, as wrath often leaves us, stripping us bare of anything but our primal instincts, our rage, and leaving us with nothing to show for it.

So there is a great deal of poetry surrounding Wrath’s death, not least the fact that he is killed as simply as he kills, with blood and violence. That is all that Wrath gets you.

Pride is Humbled

Pride talks big, and seems to be everywhere there is light enough to cast a shadow. He thinks nothing of others, and nothing of using them however he likes. Thus, he devours his own allies without a second thought. When all is said and done, though, it’s just a lot of posturing and shadow play looming larger than this petulant child really is.

The poetry of Pride’s end, however, lies in how he technically isn’t killed. He is merely… reduced. His callous betrayals come back to hinder him at the exact moment he means to abandon his so-called superiority in order to preserve his own life. This opens him up to an unusual assault by Edward Elric, wherein he is stripped of all his power, stripped of his abilities, stripped of the howling souls held captive within his form, stripped of his stature, stripped of everything. The mighty Pride is brought low, lower than any other creature, left as the single most dependent of all forms of life: a tiny, tiny baby.

There is nothing more humbling than to be stripped of all that one has.

Greed is Stolen

Greed takes. And takes and takes and takes. Greed intends to own everything, even the whole of the world. Greed intends to take everything of worth and keep it, enjoying it for himself. Greed is practically unassailable, and ruthless, and savage. This leaves Greed as something a bit predictable, and sometimes even reliable, but not really trustworthy with such unbridled ambition.

Greed is the first humonculus to fall, defeated by Father’s henchmen, his body destroyed, his essence taken back into Father himself. But he is brought back within the body of Yao Ling, and he is the last humunculus standing besides Father. When Father is losing, on the brink of defeat, he tries to do with Greed as Pride did with Gluttony, to absorb the souls within his creation and regain his strength. Greed was given to Ling, and taken from Ling. In their last moment together, he tricked Ling, to protect him and deliver one final blow to Father. That last caused Father to expel him again, fatally this time. And yet he dies finally, in some way, fulfilled.

I suppose that makes this poetic in at least two ways: 1) Greed, who takes, is taken away, and 2) Greed, for once, does something selfless, something he cannot possibly benefit from.

Finally, Father

…do I need to go into how appropriate it is for the Father of the Homunculi to be destroyed by the people he tried to devour? For the slave he used and empowered to be the one to undo work that took him centuries to accomplish? For the last survivor of his creations to betray him, and weaken him? For the final blow to be delivered by the son of the slave he used? For him to finally run out of power and be dragged back through the Gate of Truth, into the darkness from whence he came? For his parasitic ways to be his own undoing?

Eight deaths out of eight, all with poetry in them. Some obvious, some subtle, some direct, some indirect… but eight poetic deaths out of eight. And probably more besides! I mean, all those corrupt military officers, undone by the very works they engaged in? The one who talked about foundations, and who was tossed into one? Even Ed and Al’s father, who spent so much time wanting to die and finally wanted to live when he was finally dying! There’s a lot that can be unpacked in this series! Just saying! 🙂

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What I Like and Dislike About She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

I never thought that, of all possible titles, Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power would ever go on my list of shows to watch. And then came YouTube, with all the clips to be found thereon. Considering that is what got me into Girl Meets WorldGame of Thrones, and The Vampire Diaries, got me interested in watching Angel and rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and even got me to try Pretty Little Liars, I think I am beginning to sense a pattern, here. Either way, I gave it a try.

Which turned into bingeing the entire show within one weekend. (albeit a three-day weekend)

I am secure enough in my masculinity and maturity that I can admit, I liked it. In truth, I was a bit surprised by how much I enjoyed it, as shows which are obviously intended especially for kids/girls can often turn into mind-numbing slogs for an adult man, but, then again, that can be said for most any genre, with almost any intended audience, can’t it?

Still, I have paused to ask myself, why? What is it about She-Ra which I enjoyed so much?

Well, let’s get a clear picture of what we’ve got here, starting with the premise.

She-Ra is a reboot of the 1980’s cartoon, She-Ra: Princess of Power, which was a girl-oriented spin-off version of the boy-oriented He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. As He-Man got rebooted back in the early 2000’s, and rebooting classics is an ongoing pattern of late, as with the likes of ThunderCats and Voltron, perhaps it was just a matter of time before they got around to She-Ra, too.

The plot of this reboot follows Adora, a young woman who was raised by the nefarious Horde, in which she is a rising star until a fateful moment where she is chosen to inherit the mantle of an ancient, powerful princess, She-Ra. The encounter opens her eyes to the lies the Horde has told her, and she turns against them, leaving her old life, and her old friends, behind. Now, alongside her new friends, such as the warrior Bow, Princess Glimmer, and other princesses who wield elemental magics (thus, “the princesses of power”), she fights to protect the innocent people of Etheria from the Horde’s continual onslaught. On the other side, the forces of the sinister Hordack, the power-hungry Shadow-Weaver, and the rising leadership of Catra, formerly Adora’s closest friend, seem to be nigh-unstoppable at times. And that’s only the beginning.

Throughout the four dozen or so episodes, there are moral lessons learned, numerous personal journeys undertaken, and overarching conflicts and narratives which must be questioned (Adora, especially, must do this several times). A number of interpersonal bonds, several of them surprising, all of them endearing, are formed, tested, and changed. Colorful, lovable characters, epic conflicts, cosmic powers, and deep themes of freedom, order, growth, and love are all on display, backed by fluid, pleasing animation, excellent voice work, and beautiful music.

So, it’s not simply one thing, but many things, which fascinated me about this series and made it so enjoyable. Most of all, however, it has to be the characters, and how they are the ones driving the plot (instead of the other way around), with all its disparate parts, which all come back together in the end. It’s pretty masterful, and riveting as we see the many highs and lows of all these heroes and villains, including how heroes can skirt the line of villainy, and how villains can sometimes become heroic.

In the latter case, there are essays (and other posts) which can be written about the villains of She-Ra, most especially Catra. She rises from nothing to become a dominant power in the world, triumphant one moment, then left utterly bereft by nothing more than the truth of herself and the loss of everything else, until she finally makes one good, honest choice. There are some obvious parallels between her and Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender, as well as other redeemed villains and antagonists. That’s really where Catra’s arch feels a little forced. I mean, there’s a moment where she basically goes nuts, stabs a friend in the back, and very nearly succeeds in destroying the world. After something like that, her redemption feels… perhaps a little too easy? Like, it’s simply there, it just happens, she doesn’t earn it, and her place among Adora’s friends, the way Zuko does, and there are no ill effects or lasting ill feelings.

It’s perfectly normal, do not question it.

Which actually leads me into a subject over which I am having to wrestle with myself, and it requires a bit of explanation.

It’s the word “normal.”

See, “normal,” as I have seen it, is the one thing in all of mankind’s world which is most difficult to oppose, the most dangerous to challenge, and the most heretical to question. All throughout our history, and throughout the world today, we have all sorts of examples of widespread practices and behaviors which anyone looking in from the outside would call insane, even abhorrent, but which are simply “normal” within that society. They are part of the established pattern of life and living, and things are the way they are simply because that is the way they are. There might be some rhetoric attached to it, but there’s no real discussion about it. It’s simply normal, and changing anything that is “normal” comes with great effort, cost, and risk, because how dare anyone rock the boat.

So, when I see a children’s show portraying same-sex relationships as “normal,” without any discussion of what it means, of what the consequences and potential consequences are, heck, without even any apparent distinction between same-sex and heterosexual relationships… well, it leaves me conflicted.

Not only does it teach our children that such is normal, but that there is nothing else to consider, that there is no other side to the issue. There’s one couple referred to in passing, one that’s shown as perfectly loving and lasting, another that has two men who somehow have thirteen sons (did they breed with women, learn to clone themselves, or adopt a bunch of orphans made by the ongoing war?), and, finally, the coupling that comes almost out of nowhere to decide the fate of the universe at the climax of the story. And for being so present, and apparently so important, nobody talks about. At all.

I have far less issue with there being same-sex relationships, even in a kid’s show (that is a slightly different discussion to have), than I have with how there is no discussion about it whatsoever. It is simply… normal. And therefore should not be questioned.

It’s particularly ironic for the show to treat such a sensitive, important subject in such a one-sided manner when it repeatedly demonstrates that the narratives presented by those in power are often questionable and self-serving, that there is another side which must be discovered. That is true with the narrative the Horde raised Adora on, and with the story that Adora is told about the previous She-Ra. It’s especially true of the self-aggrandizing rhetoric presented to the entire universe by a mad, ravenously power-hungry entity which spouts off about “peace” all the time, while he lays waste to worlds throughout the stars, enslaving minds and destroying everything which does not conform to him. Meanwhile, the heroes were all about freedom, individuality, and even embracing things that others would call faults or flaws. I just wish that, having featured several same-sex couples, they could have bothered to discuss it.

That, obviously, is my primary conflict with the show. Outside that, it’s a few small things, which, as kooky as they are, are just “normal.” Like how they never explain why She-Ra’s power is activated with “for the honor of Grayskull!” Or how/why Entrapta’s hair is prehensile. And, of course, it is obviously a relic of the original 80’s cartoon that nearly every girl’s name ends with “A.” Adora, Catra, Entrapta, Scorpia, Angella, Castaspella, Netossa, Spinerella, Huntara, Perfuma, Mermista, Frosta, Mara, Flutterina, Octavia… and I’m fairly certain there are a couple more. Sheesh! If not for Glimmer and Shadow-Weaver, I may have gone nuts just for that!

So, it’s not like a “perfect” show or anything. But, all in all, I enjoyed it far more than I expected. I am not certain that I can really recommend it for the kids that it’s obviously intended for, but I generally liked it.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid B.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #331: Giving Symbols Meaning

“Symbols are nothing without the women and men that give them meaning.”
– Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Season 1, Episode 1, “New World Order”

This show just started, and it’s clear that the idea of symbols, their meaning, importance, and the weight that people give them, is going to play a significant role. Sam Wilson is right in what he says, but he’s slightly wrong, and, simultaneously, even more right than he knows.

A flag represents an organization, an entity, a place, a set of ideals, and the people who swear allegiance to it. Those people, men and women both, go forth and do things, and what they do becomes what that flag symbolizes to everyone else. The Nazi swastika, for instance, might well have become a most beloved symbol if the people who used it had done better things, like protecting their people and fighting for a just cause. Instead, it’s meaning became tyranny, cruelty, and genocide, no matter what it originally meant to the Germans and the Nazis themselves, and to the people whom Hitler stole that ancient symbol from in the first place.

What Sam gets wrong is this: when a symbol has become practically holy and sacrosanct because of the person who carried it, it is the meaning, not the person, which is most important.

In Sam’s defense, he has just been handed a momentous legacy to carry on, and he feels unworthy of it. He associates it with the man who gave it to him, the man who carried it forth through Hell and high water and worse. He associates it with everything that man did and believed and was committed to. He doesn’t see how he can possibly do justice to it after everything his friend did. So he gives it up, at least temporarily, that it might inspire future generations with the untainted ideals of its original bearer.

That was a mistake.

What Sam forgets is that the ideals which Captain America held so dear did not begin with him. They preceded him, and he devoted himself to them, and now they need someone else to carry them on. Yes, he left some very big shoes to fill. But the size of the shoe is no reason not to fill them.

Symbols are given meaning by people because people stand up for that meaning with that symbol in hand. As one generation steps to the side, as all inevitably must, the next generation is needed, else that meaning will inevitably wither and die, or even become corrupted.

Sam also learns the hard way that when you leave such a potent symbol lying around unattended, instead of carrying it on yourself, it will immediately be stolen by lesser men and perverted in the pursuit of power. There may be no greater example of this than the crucifix, which is a holy symbol of compassion and divine sacrifice, and also a symbol of superstition, fear, ignorance, hypocrisy, and, oh, yes, man’s hunger for total, absolute power. The people who began it, who gave that symbol its first meaning, were not the ones who created that second meaning. That was the work of succeeding generations, those opportunists who took it and turned it to their own ends.

It’s not enough for a symbol to have been given meaning in the past. People need to keep giving it that same meaning continually, else it is either taken by the unworthy or discarded by the unknowing.

The ranks which carry on the ideals of the past must be filled by those who are stepping into the future, by young people who understand and love those ideals. That is the entire purpose of a symbol in the first place.

That is where Sam is even more right than he knows.

The swastika, the crucifix, and other symbols have shaken and transformed the world many times over, and they were not lying alone and bereft of followers in a museum when they did so. They had people who gave them meaning.

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