Random thoughts to close 2008

Dear reader, as you’ve noticed, I haven’t been updating this blog much in the past few weeks.

For positive reasons, thankfully!

Ever since I started work in 2001, I haven’t really had a chance to enjoy a Christmas holiday like I’m doing this year. For too long, journalism and press photography took away the notion of what it means to relax, and it took me a year out of the beat to regain that wonderful feeling.

I’ve also been spending time actually playing and completing a few Xbox 360 games – contrary to popular belief, I do not play games or review them for a living. Marketing and doing PR for games sometimes means you don’t have much time to actually enjoy them. I’ve completed Gears Of War 2, Fable 2, Dead Space and am now sampling the goodness of Fallout 3 (which really isn’t my cup of tea though).

More importantly, I’ve been spending my time on other familiar matters – making a fool of myself with the two brats, and re-acquainting myself with Whispering Jack. Whispering who? That’s my violin, my dear friends.

Returning to the strings

whispering jack returns.jpg

 

Whispering Jack used to be known as Sombre Jack, but I decided to change that name because the former is what I keep remembering thanks to John Farnham. Also, Sombre Jack hasn’t been played properly ever since I bought it in 2001 until my violin teacher corrected my right hand technique last week. All this while, the bow hasn’t been gripping the strings with enough “grittiness” and I’ve always wondered why my tone sounded weak. Now, Jack releases a tone so loud and so full, you can hear the D and A strings reverb long after you’ve moved on to other notes.

Not bad for a violin that hasn’t come out of its case for the past three years as I was distracted with Isabel and the crazy newsroom workload.

Moral: You don’t know how lousy your first music teacher is until you’ve met your second.

I did pass my Grade 2 a few years back, and was actually gunning for Grade 4. But to get things right once and for all, I asked my teacher to teach me the basics once again. Also because I forgot what all the majors were, but they sure come back quickly.

And it was both amusing and joyful, to have Isabel dance to Bach’s Minuet 3, and for me to play along to Isaac’s finger exercises on the piano. This is why I learnt music – not to pass exams, but to be able to produce and enjoy the tunes with the family. I just hope I can get nearly as good as a pro before I die.

On comics

I hardly read books these days – it’s so much easier and more relaxing to read comics. I just finished reading a bunch of awesome titles, coincidentally all from DC Comics. Here’s why you should read them.

 

Joker, an uber-violent tale starring the Clown Prince of Crime by Brian Azzarello. It looks, but probably isn’t, inspired by Heath Ledger’s take on The Joker (check out the slit sides of his mouth), except this version is a lot more psychotic than you thought possible. It doesn’t really match up to Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke (1988) in terms of sheer storytelling prowess or iconic Joker-graphy, but man, it’s a good read and the artwork is chilling. Bats makes an appearance towards the end to do his usual stuff, but the story isn’t about him. It’s about Joker and his relationships with the rest of the rogue gallery, and I liked the way the story fleshed out why he’s still the meanest of them all.

 

DC’s The New Frontier, a massive graphic novel project set in the 1950s by Darwyn Cooke. Drawn in a mixture of Golden Age and Silver Age comic book style, this is a remarkable retelling of the birth of the Justice League Of America, as well as some of its key members The Flash and Green Lantern. The artwork is stunning – simple yet powerful. Many comic artists today have forgotten that principle, spending all their time creating ultra-realistic panels, and forgetting that viewers don’t spend more than a few seconds on each panel. A comic’s purpose is to drive story through simple visuals, and occasionally, sock it to the senses with a powerful visual essay. The New Frontier accomplishes that with ease, and is far superior in many aspects to the animated version that came out this year on DVD.

 

Dark Victory, a Batman “Year 4” kinda novel by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. Explores the early years of Two-Face’s madness, the developing relationship between Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon, and the umpteenth (and most tired) retelling of how Robin joined Bats. It’s a compelling murder mystery tale, and given that it kept me flipping all the way to the end, it’s definitely one of the better Batman stories to date. Unfortunately, the Batman mythos is pretty much squeezed to death like Star Wars (have you watched the boring Clone Wars TV series yet?) – I don’t really know how long more DC can churn out dark and moody tales of the Dark Knight. This has been going on since the 1970s and Neal Adams’ seminal work then, and really, there’s not much mystique left to Batman.

 

And the pretty mediocre Batgirl: Year One graphic novel below. Not worth much to go bats about and really, it doesn’t deserve a “Year One” moniker. Ever since Barbara Gordon was crippled by The Joker in The Killing Joke, the whole Batgirl franchise has gone south. This story makes it all worse.

 

As usual, reading these titles cause me to reflect on how today’s kids have so little comic-book material they can enjoy and be inspired by. My kids watch the 1970s Superfriends on cable TV, and they enjoy it because it’s simple and straightforward. Alas, today’s cartoons like Ben 10, Naruto and so on have such complex plots written more for adults than kids. Now Gatchaman had a complex and adult plot too, but each episode wrapped itself up very neatly – good beats evil, so there. Now, we have animes and comics that boast about being in the gray, but what kind of ambiguous superheroes should our kids be exposed to? Isn’t it great to know that heroes aren’t flawed like mere humans?

On Old vs New Media

I once wrote a commentary in TNP two years ago that got a few online readers quite inflamed. The bit that cheesed them off was the hypothesis that blogging was a fad and could just die off like all other Internet crazes. The punchline that really got their goat went something like this: “Who’s going to pay you to write your opinions for others to read? Oh wait, journalists are already being paid for that.”

Blogging is still alive and well, and there’s been great churn – the people who wanted to try blogging and give up because of the hassle have mostly already done so. But what happens to the remainder of the blogosphere who believe there’s a career/future/nirvana in all this?

Frankly, I don’t know, and I’ve been too busy with offline work to actually join the community to tell them my thoughts. But as a guy who was schooled in Old Media, who has a New Media blog, and has to interface with both in his New Tech job, I have to keep up with the fast evolution of both the Old and New.

What’s clear is this:

1. Old Media is trying to understand and evolve into New Media, but doesn’t really get it most of the time because they’re too busy to actually blog consistently and with none of the Old Media shackles on their minds. Those who do get it, lack the influence to effect change, especially in the local context.

2. New Media wants the sheer power and influence of the Old Media, but many don’t know the inner workings or tools of Old Media (ie. great visual design, sharp copywriting, several layers of editing). And New Media often underestimates the number of people who are not reading, and hence, not influenced by them.

3. Non-media companies are all trying to extract maximum value from both Old and New Media, either as consumers or clients. But most of them are probably doing it because their bosses say “online is important for our business” without actually understanding why or how.

What is even clearer to me is this – the traditional way of consuming media will disappear in the next five years or less.

I also say this all the time, and most people don’t believe me – we will all stop reading newspapers in our hands within less than a decade. All media will transition to an electronic form and you will no longer experience the annoying stain of carbon on your fingertips. Perpetually falling prices of display panels, the ridiculously low cost of digital storage, increasing broadband capacity, and the finite number of trees demand that people learn to stop using paper to eyeball text and pictures at some point of time.

I don’t think great layouts that we see today in print will die though. PDF allows for great integrity of layouts. Size of each page isn’t an issue too. We used to think 1MB was too big for a picture file. Today’s it’s nothing.

People my age grew up at the dawn of the personal PC and have watched it evolve at an alarmingly faster rate with each decade. In 15 years, we went from 4-color CGA screens to 16-color EGA to billion-color HDTVs. In the last decade, we watched the iPod change the music industry and the world. In the next five years, really cool stuff should appear in the pipeline and enable even more fantastic ways of moulding our lifestyles.

What doesn’t change is the demand for great storytelling, great thinking and great empathy for the fellow men. To me, both Old and New Media often forget these few simple things, and take several steps back in the process. I could list some examples here, but hey, I gotta keep my day job :D.

On The Christmas Message

This Christmas, you’ll hear a lot of Nativity Stories and a lot of feel-good messages about why Jesus came to Earth to save you. I find most of this falls on deaf ears because many people here have heard it so many times.

But you should still listen, and here’s the way I’d like to tell it without involving mangers or 3 wise men.

Jesus knew you before you were born, and knew the choices you would make in life. Jesus saw the foolishness of man before man was made, but decided to forgive us for it all anyway.

Many of us say every day – “There is no God” or “I believe in my own abilities”, but the truth is, you can’t even stop yourself from tripping over a rock or catching a cold. You ask then “How can a God be so cruel to let so many evil things happen?”, without realizing that we are the source of much evil we see today.

We don’t like to ask tough questions to ourselves like “Why am I alive and breathing?”. Instead we ask “Why aren’t we rich and powerful like my neighbor?” What if someone told you that if you came to know Jesus, you’d learn to be content about yesterday, today and for all eternity?

What if you knew that Jesus came to save you from eternal suffering, of which you’re already sampling a bit of on planet Earth? Christmas means many things to many people. But it’s just a holiday. It doesn’t really matter which day Jesus was born.

It does matter which day you die though. Because when that day comes, what will you say to yourself? “What comes after this?”

I heard over last week that “so many Christians are hypocrites”. I can’t agree more with that, but then again, all humans have a tendency to be hypocritical. But just because Christians aren’t perfect in their behavior doesn’t mean that the message isn’t true.

I wish all of us Christians were perfect role models, but our humanity condemns us all the time. Many see becoming a Christian as a sure ticket to Heaven, but God will still judge all of us.

If anything, this Christmas, I hope you ask yourself some questions you’ve been avoiding thinking about. And whether you believe in Jesus or not, there’s no harm asking for a little wisdom to seek out the answers you need.

Cheers,

Ian

For Facebook readers, please note this posting originally appeared on www.iantan.org

2 Replies to “Random thoughts to close 2008”

  1. Hey Ian!

    Love how you shared the meaning of Christmas without involving the typical Christmas message.
    I think it really answers a lot of questions and doubts that non Christians have – more importantly it speaks to cynics and those who insists that Christian are hyprocrites

    Cheers and blessed Christmas!

    – a longtime reader

  2. Hi Ginny,

    Thanks, but I don’t think my little post answers any questions by cynics at all. I just hope to encourage them to think more about stuff which seem inconsequential now, but are actually life and death issues.

    I guess my issue is the lingo often used in church to both members and visitors alike – “The Mystery of The Godhead”, “Thee, thou, thine”, and so on and so forth. There’s nothing wrong with using them, but it’s also a great way to turn away people who just want to find out more about God. Instead, preachers tend to wax lyrical with the words they learnt in theological seminaries, and throw Bible verses in huge chunks at non-believers.

    Now let it be known that The Word contains all manner of truth from God (hope that doesn’t sound too theological), but as a communicator, I believe that the best way to expose non-believers is with a conservative approach.

    Everyone wants answers about life and death, but the first step to getting them to understand Jesus is to get them curious first. In today’s world with all its Santa noise and charismatic marketing in megachurches, His message can get lost.

    Have a great holiday!

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