Criticism 1: The Maxx

The Maxx is a comic book and animated show, both from the 90’s. The show is a faithful adaptation of the first 2/5ths of the comic, with a reasonably closed ending given it’s only part of the source material.

It deals with some heavy shit. Trauma, specifically of the sexual and/or childhood variety. So yeah, not light hearted. I’ll be honest and say I watched the show at a younger age than I should have. Which is maybe why it had such a profound impact on my psyche.

The story revolves around a homeless man who calls himself The Maxx and his social worker, Julie Winters. Maxx believes he’s a superhero who must protect people, especially his Jungle Queen, who just happens to look a lot like Julie Winters. Julie works out of her home and has problems with authority figures; whether it be the police or her landlord. The two of them form a codependent relationship, a very close bond of protecting each other (but never sexual).

Early on, she’s kidnapped and almost victimized by a serial rapist Mr. Gone. He’s a hard character to understand because he goes through radical changes as the story continues. He’s introduced as a rapist and attacks two women before Julie. Half way through the story a 10 year gap ensues and he reforms himself. You learn of his childhood, of the sexual abuse he suffered. He never claims it absolves him of responsibility but he sincerely wishes to repair the damage he caused. The one person he really wants forgiveness from (but never feels he deserves) is his daughter, Sarah.

That’s a bit of a spoiler because you don’t learn they’re related until near the end of the shows arc. Sarah is a troubled youth who speaks to Julie Winters as a counselor. She feels unattractive, she’s got very few friends and the one friend who is her age is an asshole. Additionally, she believes her father is dead; that he killed himself and murdered several others. As Julie and the Maxx help her deal with teenage problems, she learns that Mr. Gone is her father. 

This is the real side of what’s going on. Maxx’s “delusions” about being a superhero are actually correct. There’s a bizarre land he bleeds into and out of called The Outback. The Jungle Queen is there, and so is the evil Sorcerer Mr. Gone (as well as a whole host of strange creatures). What’s revealed by Gone is that this world is actually the mental landscape inside Julie Winters head. It’s a pseudo real place that can be traveled to by people who know how. Everyone has these Outbacks, but most are plain boring places. The only two we see are Julie’s and Sarah’s, and both have become “interesting” due to trauma or psychological illnesses. In Julie’s case, it was first because she had a mentally scarring incident as a child with a dying rabbit. Later on it was further changed when she was raped in college. Through random circumstance, this second incident pulled The Maxx into her mind, forever tying the two together. For Sarah, she spent her life coping with mental illness (not specifically diagnosed) and her inability to square her feelings about her father.

This melding of worlds, of the really harsh reality with comic book esque super heroes; it gives the show power. The unreality allows it to cut through the preconceived notions on these topics. Many stories these days use trauma, especially sexual trauma, as a cliched plot device. The Maxx takes it on and shows you perspectives from all angles. It doesn’t ask you to forgive Mr. Gone, in fact, Sarah refuses to. But one of the other characters, one of his earlier victims does forgive him. Forgiveness is always a complicated affair.

Julie shows coping with trauma as a long time thing, as something that doesn’t just get better. She uses denial and emotional barriers but it’s not just about breaking them down. She needs them at times. The Maxx wants to help her so badly but he truly doesn’t know how. He wants to be a paragon of virtue, to save women and punish villains. Gone and Julie teach him that he’s naive and must learn in order to help. All the while he’s struggling against a world that sees his life as worthless, that a homeless person is a failure by definition.  

So yeah, I recommend the show. It may be a bit dated and it may have some rough animation at times, but I haven’t seen anything like it since.

Musings on a Muse

I think I’ve clicked with an ancient practice. Or the modern european bastardization of a cultural practice. It’s hard to separate the traditional views we have from what we now know as factual history. Like having Vikings with horns or dinosaurs without feathers. It’s become part of the art. There’s nothing wrong with depicting things more realistically, but the converse is also true. It’s not out of the question to freely admit you’re ignoring facts because you’re making art. Fiction is fiction. So when I say I understand the idea of a Muse, I’m not claiming it’s what the ancient greeks believed. It’s what our modern interpretation of a Muse is. And that I think I have a grasp of.

Art comes from our brains. Magic isn’t real. The gods don’t exist. Yada yada yada.

There hasn’t been a point in time where someone actually saw a half-deity warrior or a dragon. Stories got told, miscommunication happened and myths were born. The storytellers magnified the fantastical elements to make better stories. The muses themselves are creation of the artist, yet the artist calls out to them for inspiration. It seems unlikely that every artist who invoked them genuinely believed in them. They knew it wasn’t some attractive mate who’d come to their bedchambers because… well because that never happened. To any of them. Not a once. So of course it was metaphoric; metaphors are what the artist knows best. They call out to this inner force welling up inside of them. Swirls of brain chemistry exciting random parts of the brain.
Emotions.

They’ve always been the key. You must feel strongly, passionately, intensely, to make art. Take what I said in High’s and Lows, and combine it with Love is the Answer to Consciousness. The artist needs those highs and lows. Love is by far the best avenue to experience an unrivaled emotional trip. The artist is fueled by those low points because they’re striving for that high plateau. Knowing it’s merely a short term destination is something that must be accepted. Without the drop back down, the art won’t come back.

So I get Muses. It’s the artist feeding off of someone’s energy. Not in a bad way mind you, in that magnifying way people can spiral high on. Of course they tend to have a sexual overtone but it’s not necessary; sex is intimately linked with love, for most of us. If the person isn’t in that “most of us” and not driven by sex, it will be something else equivalent (like religious fervor). The Muse will take the form of whatever the artist is most attracted to. It can be a force of nature or a similar concept but it is more likely to be physically manifest in a person. We’re wired to love other humans so it’s the easiest thing to fall in love with. The fact that the muse is a person can be a problem though. Their relationship to the artist can’t be an ideal relationship. The artist needs that low point. The Muse is most effective when near but simultaneously far. They pull the artist to greater heights, pushing them to hone their craft. Accelerating their mind far beyond what they would ever be capable of.

Er something like that. I guess. I dunno, I’m just rambling.

The Death of a Meme

Part 1 of a very disconnected study on Memetics

I’m going to get topical here. The USA elections happened this week. My social media feed has been some mixture of terrified, shocked, and angry. Unrelated to that, I’ve been working on this piece for a few weeks; a discussion on the death of human organisations. With the talk of world changing wars and the end of countries, it became very relevant.
Political parties, governments, religions, and any other organizations created by humans, are all larger memetic structures. A Memeplex. Studying the lifespan of these organisms can help us understand what is going on in the larger picture. There are two methods to learn about them, a sorta micro and macro approach. Macro would be viewing history through the lens of Memetics and seeing what traits and tactics are successful. Micro is studying human psychology and how it influences these larger structures. I’m taking the latter approach today.

The Loop of human consciousness spirals in or out over time. This is magnified in a memeplex. The extreme fringe elements of any organization will gain greater and greater dominance as the memeplex ages. Conversely, the opposite may happen. Traits which originally rendered the memeplex unique will fade. It becomes a bland, grey husk of what it once was. This is the spiral out and the spiral in. The manic and the depressive. One of these two mental states will mark the end of an organism.

This magnification means the cycles of revolution are a necessary feature of a memetic creature. When humans combine their minds it creates something unstable. Like an atomic nucleus, the balance of internal and external forces get out of whack. It creates a half-life for any memeplex. Hell, the long term stability of the human mind is questionable. Put them together and you get some monstrosity that will gravitate to an extreme. An extreme that will eventually kill it.

There’s a tendency to see memeplexes as permanent structures. They live past our own lifespans so we see them as immortal. From the perspective of a standard human, it makes sense. The apparent immortal is simply that which outlasts us. Governments, religious institutions, corporations.

When a memeplex is new, it’s quickly forced to deal with an ultimatum; to adapt or die. A majority end up with the latter. They refuse to change, relegating themselves to death by obscurity. The rest run the risk of losing any sense of their own identity through too rapid change. Only a small proportion can survive to maturity.

A Memeplex that reaches maturity is ones that has fully outlived its first generation of hosts. These are what seem like givens in our lives, the Apparent Immortal. They are not. In reality, they have a ticking time bomb inside them.
Insanity.
Insanity will kill them.