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My Ideal World, part 2

Posted by Jean Valjean , in Hierarchies Dec 19 2016 · 280 views

:kaukau:
1. People with Down Syndrome don't have a difficult time learning.
2. Christmas carolers become popular again.
3. The Cubs win the world series (wait a minute...)
4. The entire world adopts Ithkuil as the universal language. In this ideal world, people can actually pronounce all of the consonants in Ithkuil.
5. Roads? In my ideal world, we don't need roads!
6. Everyone has seen Back to the Future and gets that reference.
7. My friends don't all move to other states/countries after a year or two of me getting to know them.
8. I have more male friends than just the singular individual that I have right now.
9. Fathers are all nice and open-minded individuals that are actually cooperative and don't constantly throw you underneath the bus.
10. The next Planet of the Apes movie will star a CGI Peter Cushing.
11. Scientists invent a cure for aging. Seriously, that would be pretty nice. I'm really hoping, selfishly, that this happens within my lifetime.
12. Someone punches Josh Hayes in the face.
13. James Earl Jones is capable of being everywhere at once, so that everyone can hang out with him without hogging up his time. He's also just like he's been depicted in The Big Bang Theory.
14. Taylor Swift finds someone that she never breaks up with, and marries him, and lives happily ever after.
15. Donald Trump gets a better haircut. You know, one where I can actually tell what I'm looking at. The way it is right now is just so...confusing.
16. South Dakota finds room in their budget to carve the faces of Mt. Rushmore onto the moon.
17. Speaking of the moon, one day we will have a lunar colony, and we will host an Olympic games there.
18. Fusion reactors becomes a viable energy source.
19. People on the internet will understand sarcasm.
20. More people will understand advanced calculus, even Taylor and Maclaurin series. I still have no clue what those were.
21. Everyone will have a Teddy Bear. I'll finally find my lost Teddy Bear. Some of us will have Teddy Scorpion; I understand that some of us are different.
22. There are no monsters under the bead. You might think that that's already true of the world we live in, but you never know...
23. People wear bowties now. Bowties are cool.
24. Movie theaters have semicircular screens that take up your peripheral vision, making for an immersive, panoramic experience.
25. Nobody suffers from clinical depression. Maybe situational, temporary depression is okay, but nobody suffers from the type of lifelong depression that you can't help.


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Manly Man #5

Posted by Jean Valjean , in Superman, Hierarchies Dec 21 2013 · 443 views
Smallville

 
 
 
:kaukau: The greatest man anyone can ever encounter is his father, and let us pray that our fathers are good men.  In these men rest the foundations of every future adult.  For no one was this sacred duty more important than Jonathan Kent, and few could have qualified for the tremendous task at hand for him and his wife, Martha.  His son was no ordinary boy, who would grow up to become no mere man.  There are good fathers and bad fathers, terrible fathers and extraordinary fathers, but there are few words for the type of father Jonathan Kent had to be in order to raise Superman himself.  In order to be a father figure to that kind of man, to be Superman's Superman, he had to be a man of the ages.
 
There were certain things everybody knew about Jonathan.  He was old-fashioned in his approach to many things.  He was the idyllic Midwestern farmer, with classic values from an age long past.  he held true to the type of things that never get old, no matter how often society looks the other way the more impersonal it got.  He believed in truth, and assuming the best in people.  He was also intensely loyal to the people in his life, to the point where he threw away a future to help his father on the farm.  He was also incredibly stubborn, to a fault, but he did all these things for a good reason, and it was really quite simple why.
 
He loved people.  He knew who he was and wasn't ashamed of it, which is always manly, but what makes him extraordinary is that he knew exactly how much he loved his son, his wife, his friends, and the common man.  He knew what his obligations to them were and he would sacrifice himself to be a strong figure for them.  He was an everyman, and everybody's man, and yet nobody owned this man except God.  He would never sell himself to anyone and abandon what he believed.  He was never higher than morality.
 
These values and more he imparted on his son, and in doing so was perhaps one of the most important figured in the DC Universe.  He gave the most powerful man in the world a vision, and he gave him love.  Not once did Clark ever feel unloved under Jonathan.  Because Jonathan was stubborn, his stalwart demeanor could sometimes be frustrating.  He was, after all, overprotective, and he also knew when to hold Clark back when Clark was being impatient or reckless.  Yet, he was also always just gentle enough so that his son knew that this stubbornness came only from the deepest love he could give.
 
When I began watching Smallville, I began to really appreciate the first several seasons when Clark had both of his parents at home.  Coming from a divorced household, I always liked to imagine what it was like to have two loving parents who I could always talk to, who could be my counselors when my heart was troubled, and who I could be open and honest with.  Jonathan Kent was such a parent.  Clark could always seek out the wisdom and love of his father, and always count on him to be stronger than him when he was week in spirit.  Call that too good to be true, call that poor storytelling, but I soaked it all up, because I've seen enough stories where the household is torn, divided, and corrupted by dysfunction.  I wanted to see a family as a family ought to be, a home that could give me hope and an ideal to strive for if someday I ever became a father.  By God, Jonathan Kent was a father as fathers ought to be.  I want him as my dad.
 

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Manly Man #6

Posted by Jean Valjean , in Hierarchies Dec 18 2013 · 328 views
Les Miserables, love

 
 
 
:kaukau: Recently I wrote a letter to a friend describing my walk with Christ, and I had a few confessions that I was afraid would lose me my friendship, since my life isn't always rosy.  At risk of being preachy, I also expressed my encouragements as well, and I wanted to tell her of an inspiring figure for me whose character I think she's growing into.
  
Victor Hugo spent around seventy pages of his epic Les Miserables going into strenuous detail on the life of the Bishop Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel, better known by the titles Bishop Myriel, Monseigneur Bienvenu, or simply the Bishop of Digne.  These pages, while sometimes as dry as the book of Leviticus, were nevertheless an amazing insight into holiness.  Hugo took incredible care to consider what, in his mind, was the ideal man, and though Myriel was not perfect, he was probably the best any of us could ever be and an incredible role model.  He was endowed with gifts of kindness and gentleness that are truly beyond most people's imagination.  I have never seen anything like it.  Nobody today writes on end about what a moral person looks like.  Whenever a character does reach an ideal depth of character, it's usually at the end of a story, after a long character arch.  Ideal character is glorified but never fully explained.  It's really defined more by what it is not - a man of good character is not what he was before when he began his character arch.  It was my pleasure to flip through the pages of my old paperback copy of Les Misérables and take a nice, solid several hours to enjoy the destination for once.  Bishop Myriel was a serene man who was truly at peace with the world.
 
He was still a man.  I recall a great number of interesting arguments he had, and his sly way of commenting on the philosophies of various politicians.  Like many people, he was opinionated, and it was good to see that he had the confidence to form opinions on things, while at the same time not valuing his opinions so much that he felt the need to force them on people.  He thought what he thought, but he felt no desire to prove himself right.  What was a hundred times more important to him was his charitable profession.
 
Bishop Myriel is the most charitable person in any book, unless the Giving Tree is to be considered a person.  He is generous and filled with amazing grace.  Throughout his career, there were probably many opportunities for advancement, but he recognized that power was not always the best way to have real, genuine influence in the lives of people.  He gave his house away to be used as a hospital, kept only one tenth of his salary, kept few possessions, and compassionately went out to people who didn't deserve his affection.  He loved his enemies, and didn't even attempt to protect himself against the evils of the world, to the point where his sister worried about him.  Yet, he himself didn't worry at all, not because he figured that God would protect him from physical danger and act as his fire insurance, but because he genuinely loved the common criminal more than he did himself.

 
A man came into Digne one day, an ex-convict on parole who had walked miles and miles to find a place to stay.  Everyone else had turned him down.  One family pulled a gun out on this mysterious wanderer.  Another wouldn't even let him sleep in their dog kennel.  Finally, this man came to the bishop's door.  Myriel took him in and seated him at a place of honor, gave him all he had to eat, and let him stay for the night.  "Come in sir for you are weary/ and the night if dark out there./ Though our lives are very humble/ what we have we have to share."
 
Late that night the convict got up.  Though Bishop Myriel had very few possessions and almost nothing of value, he did have silverwear and silver candlesticks.  So, in return for the bishop's grace, the guest stole the silverware and fled.  The police arrested him because they didn't like the look of him, and they immediately found the bishop's silverware on him.  When they brought him back to bishop Myriel, however, the bishop immediately told them that he had given it to the stranger.  In fact, his guest had left early and forgotten about the silver candlesticks.  He gave the police his blessing, and they left.  When they were gone, Myriel blessed the man who robbed him as well.  He later realized that the bishop had given him more than just silver, but his love.
 
The stranger could walk off and indeed make money with the candlesticks.  He could lead a richer life and have material blessing.  Yet, that wasn't a fulfilling life.  Bishop Myriel wanted the stranger to live at peace with the world, and live knowing that he was loved.  He wanted the stranger to rediscover his soul and become and honest man.  It reminds me of when a father condones a son for not having proper character - a parent can only boast so much in a scandalous child.  For their own good, fathers show their sons gentleness so that their sons may also be good fathers someday.  A father can even forgive a son of terribly hurtful things, because he would never give up on someone he knows is a precious human being.   I know that my father has never complemented me on any of my successes or any of my great achievements in life, of which I have a number of things I could boast in, but rather he has only ever taken note of when I have been stupid, because he doesn't want a fool for a son. This devotion, this dedication, this beautification of the poor in spirit, this compassion and love are altogether too uncommon in men, and they always have been.  That is why then someone shows these, it makes an impact on everyone he meets.  Someone once put it this way:
 

Forgiveness rooted in wisdom upon one's enemy, an evil deed repaid with kindness and a blessing given in return for a curse: A more sure witness than a hundred preachers shouting from their pulpits. A more powerful praise than a thousand hallelujahs. A more efficacious prayer than ten thousand Our Fathers.

 

 
If you have true faith that everyone is infinitely precious and beautiful, that produces something in your soul.  The Bishop of Digne had love, joy, peace, forebearance, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.  Who can condemn these things?  When he lives so serenely, and demonstrates his character through these things, that makes a difference in people's lives.  He believes that there were better ways of being a blessing in the lives of others than to attain power, and he was right.  His compassion made a great difference in the life of one man, all because of love.  Because of love, a man rediscovered his soul.
 
A movie adaptation of the  Les Miserables  musical came out on Christmas Day in 2012.  I went and watched it, and something surprised me.  I haven't cried at a movie since I watched Schindler's List in 2007.  Yet, the ending to this movie caught me off-guard.  The man whom the bishop loved grew old, and wanted final rest for his soul.  As he lay on his deathbed, saying goodbye to his adopted daughter, he saw the angel of her mother.  He had barely known her, but he had been living for her through her daughter the latter half of all his life.  He had made a promise to her that changed everything.  Normally, in the play, the other angel he sees is Eponine, but this was changed in the movie, for at the end of the hallway he saw the Bishop of Digne, the first person who had ever shown love to him.  This was the first face to greet him on his way to Heaven.
 
This hit me hard.  I cried.  I know exactly just how heavy this is.  There's someone I want to see when I die, someone I only knew briefly, and someone who had a similar effect in my life as the Bishop of Digne.  However brief our encounter was, I am the little boy with divorced parents whom she loved, and it often seems that everything in my life is a footnote to that fact.  Everything I have ever ben since then is contextualized by this.  It seems small, but it's huge.  It means everything.  We try not to appear needy, but we are nothing without love, for there is no greater blessing.
 

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Manly Man #7

Posted by Jean Valjean , in Hierarchies Nov 21 2013 · 488 views
Animorphs, science fiction and 1 more...

Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image

 
 
 
:kaukau: When I was about eight or nine years old, I picked up a book called The Andalite Chronicles.  I had seen similar books with teenagers turning into animals lining the library shelves.  That was before the library burned down, but I always remembered those images.  It was exactly the kind of thing to catch a little boy's attention.  I didn't know what the stories were about, or what the pitch was, and what the implication was that they could turn into animals.  Personally, I didn't even expect the books to be anything more than just fun.  They looked like they should have been a pulpy adventure.
 
One thing I recognized was the blue alien on some of the covers, which I now know is an Andalite.  When I saw The Andalite Chronicles lying on my grandfather's basement table, I asked if I could have it, and he gave it to me.
 
What followed was one of the most amazing adventure stories I had ever read.  It still is.  The main character was an enlisted soldier in the Andalite military, fighting a war against the Yeerks.  The Yeerks were a species of slugs which entered into larger beings through the ears, flattened themselves across the brain, and controlled the bodies of their host.  The story had a rich cast of characters, including Alloran, Arbron, Chapman, Loren, and the power-hungry Visser Three.  It also included some amazing species, planets, and adventures down the classic paths of science fiction.
 
Don't ask me how they all clicked, but they did.  Elfangor became one of my favorite protagonists ever.  His relationship with Loren was something I truly felt.  Visser Three's simple hunger for power and success was incredibly human and felt very real to me, making him a compelling villain.  The impact this all had on Elfangor made him a very, very special character to me whose farewell I truly mourned.
 
However, this was all a prelude to the Animorphs series.  I recommend that you first read The Andalite Chronicles as I did, and as my sisters did when they had me read it out loud to them.  It sets up the series so well, and it's amazing when Elfangor's story isn't one that's understood in hindsight, because knowing it first makes everything so much richer, so much more cherished.
 
Simply put, Animorphs is my favorite book series and one of the most profound ongoing works of science fiction I had ever read.  If you haven't read it, I implore you to do so.  It is thought-provoking, sincere, and amazing in its humanity.  Perhaps my nostalgia biases me, since this is in the same league as Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys.  Yet, my sisters loved it as much as Harry Potter, which which is saying something since it has no nostalgic value to them and they really love Harry Potter.  Read these books, share them, and show them to your children, because there is nothing quite like them.
 
Once I picked up the first book in the main series to discover the legacy of Elfangor, I became acquainted at once with Jake.  The series started with him and it ended with him.  Yet, he didn't dominate the narrative.  Depending on your point of view and who you relate with the most, the entire series can be interpreted through the lens of any one of the characters, who each had something significant going on in their lives.
 
My favorite was Tobias.  He was alone and unwanted.  Yet he was incredibly special.  He was a boy whose father was the most amazing person and he never knew it.  Sometimes I wanted to call him the Chosen One, because even though he didn't have some grand destiny I knew what his secret backstory was.  What mattered, however, was that in spite of how amazing his parents were, he could never appreciate it.  He never had that life.  He got tossed around a lot between relatives who never wanted him.  This is the basis for many sympathetic main characters, but I fell in love with this one in particular.  It was done so well.
 
See, Tobias suffered from depression.  He darkly hid his thoughts, and no matter what the world never quite connected with him, and he never really belonged to it anyway.  He had a void in his life that could never really be filled.  He wasn't necessarily an inhospitable personality, since he could get along with others, but there was definitely something about him that people could respect.  The other Animorphs understood that he was different.  It didn't hurt that he was stuck in the body of a red-tailed hawk.
 
Symbolically, that explains so much.  He's a member of no one's world.  He doesn't even quite have a world for himself.  He's just out there, and his only true home is the landscape of nature itself.  His inhumanity is consummated in his transformation, but somehow he's more in touch with himself for it.  He spoke more to my humanity than any of the other characters.  Shortly before I had first picked up the first book, my parents separated.  No on ever understood how I felt save for some kids I met at a shelter, who had the most profound impact on me that any human being had ever had.  Those stories are too intimate for me to ever share in full except with my mother and my future wife, but I don't live in that world anymore.  That world got ripped from me, and once again I found myself not belonging to it.  I wasn't even trapped between two worlds, because nothing was pulling at me.  I just felt trapped.  The world I fled to wasn't even an escape, but some place where I found recluse, where at least I didn't feel the pain of people who didn't understand.  How could they, when I often hardly even felt human?  It still hurts me, but then I read the story of Tobias.  A.K. Applegate got it.  Through Tobias, she knew exactly where I was.
 
Life went on, albeit in an empty way.  It didn't really have any reward, but there were apparently things worth doing.  Namely, saving the world, since the Yeerks.  So many people say that it feels good to do good, but I think that the reaction of Tobias and the rest of the Animorphs disprove that little anecdote.  Saving the world didn't feel great.  For Tobias in particular, who found it easier not to feel, it was just life.  It didn't even feel like an obligation, because it was simply life.
 
With that in mind, Tobias wasn't the manliest character in the Animorphs.  He was the most significant to me in a very deep level, and still is one of my favorite fictional characters of all time.  Yet, there were certain people in his life who I had to respect.  There was a leader in the group.  He had been a person who had the qualities of leadership from the start, before the war changed him.  He had been the person who knew each of the other Animorphs from the start.  His name was Jake.  He was my second favorite character, and he became one of the greatest inspirations for me, even when I was in third grade.
 
See, Jake truly was a leader.  He has only just entered high school when he first had the responsibility of saving the world fall on his lap.  He wasn't some sort of chosen one, but he was Earth's last hope nevertheless.  That was a huge responsibility.  Most people go through a hero's journey before they rise up to the challenge of filling those shoes.  Jake never quite hesitated.  All he really needed was confirmation that the situation really was as dire as he had been told.
 
The main confirmation he got was in his brother, Tom, who was controlled by a Yeerk.  And then he saw Visser Three again.  That was all he needed to get straight to the chase and start fighting for the liberation of all mankind as a shape-shifting guerrilla warrior.  He wasn't Batman or Indiana Jones or any kind of guy who could go in and be the big hero, either.  He had to constantly practice self-preservation skills so he could lose battles in order to win wars.
 
In short, he had to make some huge decisions, and make them fast.  He had to grow up in an instant, and he pulled it off.  At age thirteen or fourteen, Jake became one of the manliest men in all of literature.
 
He was the type of person who could lead four other teens in a rebellion against an invisible enemy and keep a secret that would drive most people insane.  He could even command the respect of Tobias.  The amazing thing about Jake was that Tobias had a distinct sense of right and wrong, but he followed Jake's decisions anyway without much argument.  Jake was just respectable enough, and his judgment was often sound enough.  It was rarely perfect, since there was always the question of whether or not they did the right thing and many people had doubts, but Jake was the person who took everyone's ethical concerns and strategies and figured out what the final say was.  So a person like Tobias might not have always respected Jake's decisions, but he always respected Jake.  He was the only person who had the strength to live with them.
 
Being a leader doesn't require that you always be right.  What it required for Jake was a lot of sacrifice.  He taught me something long before I ever heard Spock put the philosophy in words: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."  Jake had to make this decision all the time, and yet had to balance these harsh militaristic strategies to, on occasion, risk himself for just one person.  He had to put his own concerns behind him from day one.  He had to make impossible decisions, when he had to decide to let a loved one die.  He had to live with the fact that one day, in spite of all his hopes, he would probably have to kill his own brother.
 
Doing the right thing doesn't always look pretty.  It certainly doesn't always feel good.  Sometimes he felt evil and no better than the enemy for killing.  It was an impossible decision to make.  It was, likewise, an equally impossible decision to spare his enemies when he and his friends thought that they were crossing a line.  Sometimes he felt terrible for being too harsh, other times for being too merciful.
 
What Jake's leadership also required was a strong relationship with his team.  He never took charge, but rather he was given charge.  Why?  Because when they needed a butcher, he was the butcher.  When they needed a saint, he was their saint.  The weight of their decisions was off their shoulders.  Whether they were ultimately right or wrong, who knew?  That was for Jake to contemplate.  The burden of the responsibility was on his shoulders.    No one else wanted it, and no one else could have lived with all his doubts.  Each of the Animorphs had their own point of view and could rarely agree on everything, but they always knew that everyone had a strong point.  Cassie knew that Rachel had a point, and Marco often knew that Ax had a point.  Jake was the mediator.  If there was any guilt in their actions as a team, it rested on his shoulders.  The rest of the Animorphs could rest knowing that while it was their decision to follow his lead, his decisions weren't their decisions.
 
By the end, Jake was a changed person.  He had sacrificed much of his humanity.  Some of the other Animorphs could cope with the weight of the war against the Yeerk invasion, such as the humorous Marco and the benevolent Cassie, but Jake was never the same.  In some ways, he began looking a lot like Tobias.  He was silent, and no one could quite connect with them.  He had sacrificed everything and hollowed himself out to do what he had to do.  Adding to the exhaustion was that he had to force himself every day to act as if everything was normal and to live a normal life.  I think there was a part where he had to finally cave in.
 
Because the blood on his hands wasn't pretty.  The things he had witnessed were even worse.  Yet he made the decision every day to actively chase after these things.  He made the decision to save the world, do what he could, and question whether or not he made the best decisions later.  Sometimes that even meant making sure that he would live while other innocent people perished so that he could live to save others.  Sometimes that meant flat out ignoring the safety of loved ones when he had to choose between them and the world.  That was the hardest of them all, because they were the people who kept him going.  "If he defeated the Yeerks, freed humanity, rescued Earth, that was good. But that was just a bonus. His main goal was much simpler. To save his family. That goal was what had given him strength. That goal was what had kept him sane. Allowed him to retain a center of calm focus amid the awful chaos."  How was it even possible for him to set his family aside when they were the reason he fought for humanity in the first place?
 
These were big thoughts, tremendous for a third grade student.  Yet, it introduced me very early on to the complex world of ethics.  Sometimes this world has room for idealism.  Other times it requires pragmatism.  Other times, who knows?  Should he have listened to Marco's philosophy of the ends justifying the means, of taking the straightest path from point A to point B?  Should he approach his problems as aggressively as possible with a "Let's do it" attitude, like his cousin Rachel?  Should he have heeded the simple compassion and humanity of Cassie, who kept her morals close to her heart for the whole series?  Should he simply do his duty and commit himself as a soldier to victory, as Ax did?  Should he have been more loyal to the people he was trying to lead, as Tobias was to him?
 
What I know was that it wasn't Jake's concern to be a good person, although he certainly was.  In order to be that, however, he only worried about being the person he needed to be.  He got me to think long and hard about these things, and about some of life's toughest questions.  The rest of his team did, too, but he was the one I looked up to.  I was Tobias and I am still completely fine with being that person, but Jake was the person I aspired to be a little more like, because he's the man I could never be.  He led me as a little boy and he's leading me still.
 

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Manly Man #8

Posted by Jean Valjean , in Hierarchies Nov 09 2013 · 522 views
Spock, Star Trek, Amazing Grace
:kaukau:  "Do not grieve, Admiral; it was logical.  The needs of the many outweigh..."
 
"The needs of the few."
 
"Or the one.  I never took the Kobiyashi Maru test until now.  What do you think of my solution?"
 
"Spock..."
 
"I have been and always shall be your friend.  Live long...and prosper."

 

 
When Spock died, I did not cry.  I was aware, from a logical standpoint, that it was genuinely as sad as fictional deaths come and that the execution was perfect enough that it deserved its fixture in popular culture.  The continuing friendship of Kirk and Spock was friendship of the ages.  It was the stuff of legends.  Many times, they had even mourned their own presumed deaths before they proved to be alive by the end of the episode.  Yet, as he entered the radiation chamber, it was clear that this time the death was for real.  He would not come back at the end of the episode.  The next movie?  Maybe.  But taken on its own, The Wrath of Khan dealt with the death of someone who was seemingly beyond death very sincerely.  Spock was one of those people whose death was tragic because it was impossible to imagine life without him, as the writing for later movies proved.
 
All the while, I contained my emotions and didn't feel sad myself.  Then Kirk gives his eulogy.  Scotty played "Amazing Grace".  I had to sing that song at the funeral of a loved one once, someone who I still miss.  I almost - almost - cried.  My sister, lying on the floor and scooted up right next to the television set, was less stoic.

 
Wrath of Khan is his defining moment, but it's best to stress that this is truly saying something, considering that there are many amazing stories featuring him which are also great and worthy of mention.  It's hard to know where to start, and I was tempted to cite a less known example of Spock's amazing human soul shining through.  Almost every episode with Spock in it is worth a million words in commentary, and in recognition of this vast body of work which has bravely explored the implications of a character who still has yet to be fully mapped out, and whose relevance continues to this day, Mr. Spock merits a spot on this list.
 
Who is Spock?  From day one, Star Trek has journeyed to the stars to answer that question.  After all this time, after having travelled to the edge of the galaxy and goatee-clad alternative dimensions, the answer wasn't found in the places they visited.  It was found only upon coming home after that long journey.  Spock is many things, but at his core, he is human.
 
He defines the science fiction genre, which at its core asks what it means to be human, what it means to have a soul.  Spock mebodied humanity in ways that many humans have failed to do, percisely because of his distance from it.  He has been able to look at himself objectively and attain a full self-knowledge.  He rarely had to ask who he was, because he knew his decisions, and he was who he had decided to be.
 
Spock has done us the profound favor of asking us questions we secretly want to be asked.  Sometimes, when we're like the Qohelet of Ecclesiastes and disturbed by how some of our intuitive answers to life don't add up, he's objective enough to pursue those questions.  For example, why is it that we act the way we do?  Why do we bother with emotion?  It unfairly biases our ethics, but then, does not ethics presuppose that there is a desirable and pleasing outcome, and is it not our very emotions that are necessary in order to determine an ultimate "good" from an ultimate "evil"?  Yet, Spock is rarely emotional, so how can there be any preferred good in such a case as his?  In the end, who knows if our actions have any meaning?  Logic dictates that we have nothing better to do than to do what is right, and to pursue the right wisely.
 
The brilliance of the character is that he is still half human.  Underneath it all, he's just like you and me.  He chooses not to feel emotions so as not to cloud his judgment, but he does this precisely because he cares.  When Wrath of Khan came about, it proved where his heart ultimately lay, even though it hardly needed proving.  His heart was with his friends, who he would give his life to protect without any hesitation.  There's that verse that begins with the words "Greater love hath no man..."
 
Which makes Spock an exceptional man.  Because at the end of the day, our decisions show us where our hearts truly lie.  He has his own style, but that's not what defines him.  What defines him was that he acts on what is right, and at his core he is a moral being. Spock is many things, but above all he is a true friend, one whose friendship is the stuff of legends.  And being selfless like that makes for a true man.
 
Live long and prosper.
 

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Manly Man #9

Posted by Jean Valjean , in Hierarchies Oct 11 2013 · 537 views
1/2 Star Wars Man, John Williams

 
:kaukau: When I was a little boy, my father had two things in the basement.  The first was a whip hanging from the ceiling rafters.  The second was a personal library filled with old books, with yellowed pages feeling soft and tender under my fingers.  Among those books were classics from Jules Vern, books about science, history books, and so on, but as I write this I vividly remember pulling out an Indiana Jones chose-your-own-adventure book from eye-level.
 
Like many boys my age, I thought that my father was the coolest person ever and the epitome of manliness.  Being a boy, my perceptions of what it meant to be a man lacked some sophistication, so my understanding could best be illustrated by how I fell into the classic playground argument that consisted of boasts that "My dad could beat up your dad!"  I vaguely recall saying that my dad was so strong that he could flex his muscles and they would reach the moon.  In any case, all us boys knew the requirements of what it meant to have a cool dad: he had to be tough, capable of beating up everyone else's manly dads, and dominate in an already tough pack.  They had to do manly things, dangerous things, and so forth.  Looking back now as an adult with a lasting sense of nostalgia on these tiny little moments, I realize that we in a sense we were right on all these things.  We knew what it was like to have a cool dad; what it meant to be a cool dad was not for us to worry about yet.  There was something special about those arguments, because they were a testament to the innocence of childhood that for me ended overnight.  Most of us would grow up and at one point or other become disillusioned with our fathers, and then we would turn our gaze inward as we began to realize the weight of bigger questions, like who we would become and what kind of men we wanted to be, and if we wanted to be like our fathers.  The one thing I learned from this is that I hope to be the type of father who will live up to his son's fantasy of him, and to give him reasons to make uncomplicated boasts.  That uncomplicated pride for the father is, I think, a fundamental part of growing up and the personal history that makes a man a man.
 
As a man, I realize that there was some truth to my claims about my father.  He happens to have been blessed with just the right wrinkles, just the right smile, just the right hair, and just the right physique to pass as an Indiana Jones doppelganger.  I think a part of him knew it, otherwise he would have never owned that bullwhip in the basement.  He did tough things for a living, and when I visited the construction sites he worked at, it was as if I was stepping into an ancient temple or some abandoned city to explore.  He did dangerous things there and worked with other people who did dangerous things.  The callouses and scars on his hands proved it.  This was not the only highly textured part of his body.  Part of growing up was having him pick me up and rub his face against mine, and his rough stubble would scratch against my youthful skin.  Most men who grow beards should never have done so in the first place, but stubble is a virtue.  I still want to have my own scratchy face sometime.  Maybe then I will be my own Indiana Jones, and my father will be a crazy old Sean Connery who has, in a way, a son who grew up to be a man he always would have liked to see.  Somehow, I think he would still get frustrated with me and we would still bicker.  Such are the consequences of being too much alike, but it's worth it to successfully adopt the Jones mentality, which has always been very strong in such a way that even a child can understand it.
 
In all these things, Indiana Jones excelled in uncomplicated manliness.  Everyone is familiar with the 80's action hero, where being manly was fairly straightforward.  Harrison Ford into that group of people, but he had a little more.  He wasn't a muscle, but a man.  He had just the right kind of masculinity.  He wasn't just tough, but he could get the women, fight the bad guys, get his fair share of arch-nemeses, wield a bullwhip, discover lost artifacts, know the value of important MacGuffins, be a hero everyone loves, go on adventures, and make it all look normal when he came back to teach his history class.  To top it all off, he had that remarkable sense of fashion and stubble to die for.  If the list of manliest men ever were to include anyone on the grounds of that sort of uncomplicated masculinity, the kind built off of sweat and daring action, the only person suitable for that list is Indiana Jones.
 
He is, to me, the ultimate manly man when it comes to defining what masculinity is.  Yes, being a man entails other things, including a loving heart and a wealth of maturity, but I always wanted to be an Indiana Jones type of manly man.  Arnold Schwarzenegger was cool, but he's not who I wanted to be.  Sylvester Stallone was a manly man, and I envied his muscles but little else.  The list of 80's action stars goes on, but then I look at the newer generation of action stars, which now consists of actors like Matt Damon, Will Smith, and Tom Cruise.  They're really good action stars, but lack the roughness and charm of a classic manly man from the 80's.  I think that Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones managed to capture the best of both worlds.  Yes, he had plenty of charm and endearing personality that was real and authentic, but it just so happened that part of that authentic personality was his roughness and aggression, and his brash bravery.  He was tough, charming, and sophisticated all at once, and this could have only been pulled off with Harrison Ford, who had just the right personality and, conveniently, a face that was both rigid but also very handsome in such a way that Carrie Fisher said he had a "classic Hollywood face."

 
According to many other women, he was incredibly hot.  Perhaps a relationship with him is not the most desirable, since it apparently took him a long time to mature to the level where he was ready to settle down, but it seems that a lot of women wanted to at least give him a try, or to at least see what it was like to be kissed by him.  He knew how to act and carry himself in just the right way in order to be incredibly sexy, and to make women feel incredibly sexy as well.  Would it be good to be like that all the time?  That's questionable, but Indiana Jones is masculinity distilled, and it would be nice if every man knew how to be that manly if they wanted to.  Perhaps not all woman like ultra-manly men like Indiana Jones, since he comes in such a high concentration it would be too much for most people to handle, but it’s pretty nice when men know how to channel that archetype, that confidence in their manliness, when the time calls for it.  After all, most women understand that the important things to look for in men are loving kindness, honesty, maturity, temperance, stability, and other signs of good character, but it’s also nice for there to be chemistry, by which I mean that most of them want their man to be distinctly a man.  You know, someone who makes her feel sexy and awesome.
 
He got the attention of women because he was willing to own up to his masculinity.  He wasn’t necessarily always sexually charged, but he clearly gave off an aura of his personality, which was the intellectual, rough-riding, simple and uncomplicated, red-blooded adventurer that he was.  He was the man other men could look up to.  He didn’t conceal his nature, which was the nature of awesomeness himself.  He was so manly it was contagious.  Other man would gain a notch of manliness through continued exposure to him.  Women had fun being women around him.  He made everyone sexier, which in turn is probably at the core of what made him so sexy and appealing himself.  Therefore, women knew he was a catch – unfortunately for them, catching him would mean getting pulled into the lake.
 
Thus is the problem with Indiana Jones.  While not as deadly as James Bond, people associate with him at their own peril.  He saves people’s lives, but in order to do so he gets into dangerous situations.  A good number of his friends died by following him too closely.  Perhaps, then, it is a good thing that Indiana mostly seems to enjoy women but not necessarily value relationships, since far too much could go wrong considering his lifestyle.  Even if a woman could hold her own, she still has to get past that lack of commitment.  I choose to acknowledge that Kingdom of the Chrystal Skull actually happened, so it’s my pleasure to know that he ends up with Marion in the end – twenty years after their initial wedding plans.  Therefore, he does mature enough to settle down in the end.  It just comes at the expense of him being much older and manly in a completely different way.  It sort of ruins the fantasy of having a boyfriend or husband who could channel Indiana Jones every once and a while on a date, but there’s a way around that.  If a woman wanted to imagine what it would be like if her man perfectly channeled Indiana Jones, but with a more romantic side completely in keeping with his character and presence, she could always think of herself as Princess Leia.
There's more to Indiana Jones's manliness, of course.  Why has he endured so much as a character where many others have failed?  Why has he become the quintessential adventurer?  Asides from nailing the archetypal visual queues, his ability to easily attract women, his relationship with his enemies, and his personal charm, I think that there's something to be said for his sheer smarts.  Indy is known for going into a situation without a plan, and it almost always works, because neither the villains nor the audience can predict him.  Regardless, he still gets into a lot of trouble, just barely getting by, and I don't think it wouldn't have been possible if it wasn't for how smart he was.  One could argue that he would have gotten into those situations in the first place, either, if he hadn't been too smart for his own good.
 
See, Henry Jones, Jr. is a college professor.  He's a savvy Yank just as much as he is a rough ranger.  Half of his time is spent studying and gathering all of the know-how that carries him through his adventures.  If he wasn't smart, he wouldn't have been such a challenge to the Nazis seeking the lost ark.  If he wasn't so smart, he would not be able to speak so many languages and automatically know the important details of ancient cultures.  If he wasn't so smart, he wouldn't be solving ancient puzzles all the time.  If he wasn't so smart, the Russians wouldn't have personally kidnapped him to learn more about aliens.  If he wasn't so smart, he wouldn't have made allies wherever he went.
 
My father once again comes to mind.  If I allow my mind to travel back in time, I can distinctively recall a time when he was the man who knew everything.  He was bigger than me, stronger than me, and by God he was smarter than me.  He was the man I went to whenever I had any questions.  He knew everything there was to know about the big, big world out there.  Part of it was from first-hand experience, but part of his knowledge came from everyday book smarts, because he graduated with an engineering degree from Dordt College, knew a million things about math and science, and had a ton of books on all these things in his personal library.  That made him manly, too, and for that same reason, Indiana Jones is manly, especially since he and my father are one and the same.
 
That amazing man, my father, has another gift that I have come to belatedly appreciate, which is the ability to blend in wherever he goes, no matter how different the other people are.  This is one of the really big things about Indiana Jones, because his knowledge, as stated previously, gained him a lot of friends.  He always had friends, sidekicks, and allies wherever he went.  Part of it was because he was simply a total alpha male, but his knowledge and appreciation for other cultures really helped him by leaps and bounds.  If he went to China, he knew enough about Chinese culture to give him respect.  When he randomly dropped in India, people knew him right away and could tell he was a commodity, because a famous professor such as him could surely associate with them, and he indeed proved to Willie that he was far more familiar and comfortable with Indian culture than she was.  His adventures would not have been so exciting if he did not know how to adapt to each amazing situation, locality, and climate, for which Professor Jones has my highest.
 
Without being paradoxical, he's still an underdog.  He still has to fight an uphill battle against the bad guys with limited resources.  he has to board moving cargo vehicles, hide amid crates of Nazi weapons, scurry to find a useful tool, solve ancient riddles before the bad guys do even when the bad guys physically possess the map to which he only temporarily had, ride mining carts, escape captivity, survive deadly encounters with snakes, and so forth.  Every once and a while it gets easy, and he can simply shoot a swordsman, but the circumstances are almost always extraordinary.
 
Then the incredible happens.  There are a lot of reasons that I consider him manly, from his charm to the nostalgia of reading old-fashioned pulp novels in my personal library, but in spite of everything I've mentioned, in spite of how he can be a cranky old cook, and in spite of how he can be slightly arrogant at times, what makes him special is that he's indisputably the good guy.  He's the hero of the story, and his heroism is surprisingly uncomplicated.  His goals are pure, his objectives respectable.  He just wants things to be the way they ought to be.  He fights the bad guys because they're the bad guys and it's very clear that what they're doing is wrong.  Sometimes he's cocky (like a certain Skywalker), though usually when he's around people who don't really know what they're doing, and he is otherwise a very humble man who knows how to respect those around him, but most importantly respect for the treasure he hunts down.  Sit still and think about this for a moment.  Consistent throughout all the films, Indiana Jones doesn't defeat the villains at the end.  He's pretty cool, but all that manliness just isn't enough.  The villains are ultimately destroyed by their disrespect for the treasure.
 
Think about this.  Indiana Jones never defeated the Nazis.  He was captured, tied up, and did nothing as the Nazis opened up the Ark.  God came down and killed everyone, but Indiana Jones was spared because he respectfully closed his eyes.  In the next movie, he didn't kill the Thuggee cult leader, but rather the cult leader fell to his own death getting burnt trying to grab one of the sacred stones.  In The Last Crusade, God once again killed the Nazis when they tried to remove the Holy Grail from its chamber.  In the final movie, Irina Spalko thought that Indiana Jones had little faith in the knowledge of the aliens, but Indiana Jones responded "I have faith.  That's why I'm standing down here."  Every single stop of the way, his humility saved him and the villains defeated themselves while he focused on the true treasures of this world, which were the lives of his friends and trustees.  The world needs more heroes like him.
 
And that is why Indiana Jones is the quintessential, archetypal, classic alpha male ever to grace both silver screen and pulp novel.

 

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Manly Man #10

Posted by Jean Valjean , in Hierarchies Oct 06 2013 · 470 views
Star Wars

 
:kaukau: Let's reword that statement: "If you strike me down, I will become more MANLY than you could possibly imagine."
 
Ever since Princess Leia pleaded over hologram message "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi; you are my only hope!" he has become a household name.  When he first appeared, he had just that right amount of mysteriousness about him.  In so many ways, it was certainly human, and looking back I think Alec Guiness did a better job than even most fans gave him credit for.  This wasn't Gandalf, who was mysterious by the virtue that he was indeed hard to comprehend, being some Tolkien equivalent of an angel.  There was a quality about Obi-Wan that made me automatically trust him as a mentor.  Though mysterious, he seemed attainable and human.  He had a history.  He could have been my uncle.  I respected him.  My mother respected him.  He was a character we found ourselves incapable of criticizing, like we could with so many other attempts at memorable mentors that came after him.  We didn't just look at him and think he was cool, but he also seemed like the type of person who could be a friend, like someone who could have and ought to have been a normal fixture in our lives.
 
In any case, he died, but in a pretty glorious fashion.  And who can forget how he came back as one with the Force?  I will always love the simple look of his ghostly projection, and to me that's what a Force ghost should look like.  My deepest hope is that if the ghosts are depicted again in the new movies that the same look is retained, no matter how dated it looks.
 
In any case, he was cool even as a ghost.
 
Yet, let's rewind.  Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi is my favorite character in the entire Star Wars franchise.  Not only did Alec Guiness to an amazing job of playing him, but easily the other best performance of the entire saga is Ewan McGregor's depiction of Kenobi in his formative years.  Whenever a character is recast, especially due to age differences, I must take a breath, but this was easily the best casting ever.  I can't say for sure whether Ewan himself actually looks like Alec in and of himself.  Ewan didn't do an impression of the original, since it was a younger Kenobi who hadn't fully matured into the older one, the one called "Ben."  Yet, the transition looked seamless.
 
The younger Kenobi, meanwhile, was what elevated Old Ben to this list for manliness.  For a while I had a long debate on whether I was going to include Kenobi of Qui-Gon Jinn on this list due to their equal status as awesome mentors and awesome Jedi in general.  Qui-Gon certainly has a lot of cool literature out there when you look at the extended universe, and I'm a huge fan.  Yet, this list couldn't include both of them, as I only had so much room and only one and a half Star Wars characters made the final cut.  What sold me on Obi-Wan Kenobi was Ewan's performance in Revenge of the Sith.  That hair, that beard, and that awesome robe set aside, I was just impressed by his development from a simple padawan into a mature, dependable person.  I said before that he could not only be a mentor but a friend if given enough time, and Episode III proved it.  He had an intimate relationship with Anakin.  They were essentially brothers.  Yet, he also knew how to always do the right thing, and he wasn't afraid to stand up to Anakin when he turned to the Dark Side.  It's hard to forget the power of their confrontation on Mustafar.
 
To fully grasp who this manly man is, let's look at his biography.  He was trained by Qui-Gon Jinn (Manliness!) who was trained by Dooku (Played by Christopher Lee, ergo manliness!), who was trained by Thame Cerulian (Appointed to the Jedi High Councel because of his manliness!), who was trained by Master Yoda (A whole new kind of manliness!).  Really, it's difficult to determine who's the manliest man out of that lot.  I just have to go on a tangent here to emphasize how how manly Obi-Wan's mentor was.  Qui-Gonn was a maverick and deeply tuned with the Living Force, and a compassionate and caring person who put common grace above the rules.  He would often go out of the way to help people when it didn't make sense because he knew when the Force was speaking to him.  Not only that, but Qui-Gon was the first person to ever discover how to become one with the Force.  Kenobi, meanwhile, was the most awesome of apprentices ever.  He was patient and humble under his master and kept a very perfect faith in their mission.  At the same time, he was pretty aware of Qui-Gon's maverick nature and knew how to reverently voice his opinion without dishonoring his master.  How many people can keep faith in someone even when they seriously question them, even doubting them?  Obi-Wan could.
 
Then Qui-Gon died, and Obi-Wan had to grow up fast.  Since he wasn't the main hero of the story (main heroes are almost always boyish instead of manly), he actually grew into an adult inconspicuously.  Of course, he had to kill a Sith first, and he was the first Jedi in 1,000 years to do so.  What does he do when he realized that the times have seriously changed and that an ancient evil that defined the Jedi identity returned?  While he's not cool with it, I'm astounded that he spends no time worrying.  His thoughts are purely on how he can train this poor boy, Anakin.  He doesn't think of whether or not he's going to fail when further conflict breaks out because he's already doing something about it.  I might also add that this took a tremendous leap of faith in the judgment of his deceased mentor, Qui-Gon Jinn, and he didn't continue his master's work out of some insecurity, as if he he had to continue his master's will in order to be at peace with himself.
 
Kenobi was also a stern but patient Jedi Master himself as he got used to Anakin Skywalker's maverick ways.  He had seen that sort of recklessness before in his master, only that reckless manliness was condenced down into reckless boyishness.  Obi-Wan was aware of how it could potentially all go wrong, but he put faith in his apprentice and loved him like a brother.  Overall, they had a pretty good relationship, even if Obi-Wan's conservative ways sometimes upset Anakin.  Really, though, Obi-Wan was always right whenever he held Anakin back.
 
Which brings us to a cool fact about Kenobi.  He has one of the most reserved, defensive swordsman in Jedi history, being the quintessential expert in the lightsaber form known as Soresu.  Even Mace Windu, who invented Vaapad, revered Kenobi, because he was the master of the classic form.  Every Jedi knew it and trained in it, but few ever actually stayed with it.  Yet Obi-Wan never took shortcuts and he stuck to the fundamentals, and he would not shift into the more aggressive Ataru form until he had worn out or frustrated his enemy.  It's really interesting that he didn't want to move on to something more advanced, and this actually saved him in his fight with General Grievous, who automatically adapted to every dueling form he had ever encountered, but had never fought a Soresu purist.  This even helped him be one of the only Jedi to ever survive an encounter with Darth Vader - and this was in his prime, before Vader became more machine than man!  Only Kenobi was a purist enough to stick to the most modest of all forms, and it saved him his life.  There's a real serenity about that man.
 
Moving on to the clone wars, he was an amazing general who lead from the front lines and was willing to do things that scared him.  He wasn't trying to be brave, and he wasn't merely doing his job.  He was a hero, pure and simple.  By that time, he had also become a wonderful partner with his former apprentice, Anakin, and they worked side by side as equals.  In fact, they were such a strong duo that they became famous for it.  Who here has had an imaginary friend who was so awesome that the two of you would go on adventures together and those "Adventures of X and X" became legendary?  No?  I know some people are going to say they haven't, but that's okay.  I have.  I totally have an imaginary friend who's I save the world with.  We're some sort of dynamic duo, two people with the most awesome friendship ever.
 
So Obi-Wan is apparently not only an excellent padawan and a great master, but he's also an awesome friend and brother.  So far, so good.
 
Then the hero of the story ceases to be the hero of the story.  So Obi-Wan is kind of the only active good guy in Episode III at the end.  Goodness, he did a good job of representing good.  It takes a real manly man to stand up to your best friend and fight to the death while on a lava planet, and the way he ended the fight was simply gracious.  Sure, he cut off Anakin's legs and he left him there to die, which on the surface might seem heartless, but in reality he was heart-broken and he dealt with it in perhaps the cleanest way possible.  He kept on fighting until his frienemy destroyed himself and walked away in tears when it was over.
 
Then we get to the patience of Ben Kenobi.  Taking his Soresu fighting style and adopting it to his entire lifestyle, he defensively goes into exile and merely waits until the right opportunity inevitably arises.  He doesn't necessarily do nothing; after all, he looks after the galaxy's last hope.  But it's a meager life.  I still respect him for it.  That man has patience.
 
So le's revisit the roles he perfectly fits into: apprentice, master, brother, friend, general, high counsel member, and crazy old uncle/wise mentor.  Yes, you could say that he was a wise mentor before when he was Anakin's master, but it really wasn't the same because he was incredibly young when he started training a padawan.  He was a mentor then, but not a sage, which he was when he was Ben.  Considering all that background, I think it really adds to that amazing sage he became.  Normally the sage seems unattainable.  In many ways it still is, simply because Obi-Wan is ten times more awesome than most people and his mistakes weren't as significant, but at no point did he seem inhuman.  Mistakes can teach you lessons in a hurry, but I think Obi-Wan learned over time through patience.  He was, to me, simply the most respectable kind of person out there.
 
Live selflessly, be humble, patient, gracious, and filled with serenity, and you will become more powerful than Darth can possibly imagine.
 

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10 Manliest Men in Fiction

Posted by Jean Valjean , in Hierarchies Oct 05 2013 · 307 views
list, countdown
:kaukau: Last year I wrote a series of articles on female characters I considered beautiful.  I was, in part, judging based off of physical beauty and not just beauty of character.  This was a clarification I made from the onset because the list was of the "most beautiful" female characters, specifically onscreen, and not merely my favorite, otherwise characters such as Ellen Ripley, Wonder Woman, and Princess Leia would have been guaranteed finalists.  However, I was never drawn in by these characters in a sense where I labeled them "this is beautiful" so much as I thought "this is awesome."  Being beautiful connotes attractiveness, which doesn't necessarily mean physical attraction or romantic attraction, but in its most generic sense means that a person is in some way desirable and doesn't repel others.
 
Taking this term and applying it to something other than a human, let us consider a Bible.  There are many versions to choose from, and even among the translations there are countless variations in physical structure.  Some people consider the archaic language of the King James translation to be the most attractive, and in this case what that means is that there's something that draws them to that particular book, something that makes them comfortable with it and prefer it over other books.  It is the most desirable read.  However, then there's Calvin's Commentaries, or the New Interpreter's Bible, which are truly extensive commentary Bibles.  To some, these are incredibly attractive as well, but not necessarily for the same reason.  The person who prefers to read the KJV for its language might not appreciate that the NIB uses parallel texts of the NIV and the NRSV.  However, the bookshelf-length critical exegesis and hermeneutics are attractive for research.  It is enough to draw the biblical scholar in, and he instinctively trusts that he will be pleased by making further acquaintance with these texts.  Still further, there's something beautiful about Bibles bound in leather, or antique casing, or filled with old printing press art.
 
Therefore, I found certain women beautiful.  The most beautiful of them all, Molly Jensen, was not someone I was romantically attracted to, but she's the type of person I would automatically click with if I met at a place such as my college, and the type of person I would find myself attaching deep value to in spite of myself.
 
The standards are different for this list because my perspective on these things are not the same, i.e. I have a certain bias that won't appear when judging men based off of manliness, for the most part, and I obviously won't fanboy over how adorable a male character is.  For all I know female readers will find the men of this list attractive, but I will make no such presumption, as I am not taking into account any feminine perspective.  I will not judge them based off of any attraction I have to them, or how their presentation enlightens me to how they are precious, beautiful human beings.  I believe with my last list my ultimate conclusion was that there was an inherent beauty in all people, if you just look, and that the women I listed had certain traits, ranging from their physical appearance to their personality to their presentation within their roles within their respective stories, really brought this out.
 
What is the nature and the purpose of this list?  This is certainly a list of different sorts than the last one.  I would often say that female characters like Darlene Conner inspired me and that I could relate to them.  That standard certainly applies to this list as well, but there's something more to it this time.
 
Because the characters are male, perhaps I connect with them even more.  I don't quite see them as what C.S. Lewis might call "the Other" so much as a literary extension of myself, or images of myself that I wish I could exemplify more.  In certain modes, I could be these people.  I not only admired and valued them, as I would a female character, but I wanted to be them.  So yes, I look at these people as role models, mentors, and father figures.  Furthermore, they have come to represent what for me is the true art of manliness.  My notions of what it meant to be a man, a true man, took their queue from these great mountainous examples.  I have an inherent beauty as a human being, but these people taught me how to do that beauty justice through their sheer manliness.  Finally, these characters taught me a lot about who I am and helped me discover myself.
 
Come back tomorrow for the first of the manly men.

 
 

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The Most Beautiful Woman in the Movies

Posted by Jean Valjean , in Hierarchies, Movies, Wisdom Feb 23 2013 · 1,389 views
Ghost, favorite, friendship

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FOR YEARS I HAVE BEEN HAUNTED BY THE PHANTOM OF MY BEST FRIEND.  She is a woman, and very much like an older sister to me.   She is, in a sense, my ultimate peer.  She is the person who never gives up on me, always has faith in me, and knows that I will pick myself back up again when I fall.  She doesn’t coach me, but she holds me in her confidence, knowing that if she can get things right, then I will, too.  We are, after all, peers.
          This perpetual specter has never left me and has been an archetype in my imagination that has come to define my journey in life.  She has played a part in how I look at myself, how my identity has been formed, and how I view other people, since there are few people who are as real to me (or unreal, as further on I will explain) as she is.
          My friend has a face that has been constant and unchanging over the years, and I know its precise details.  As it happens, she bears a strong resemblance to Molly Jensen, a character from Ghost who always really stood out to me because of this similarity.  In fact, my friend and Molly resemble each other on multiple levels, the face being the least of these.  Many of the ways in which Molly is presented echo the presence my imaginary friend has.
          To me, my friend is Eve, the original, archetypal, unadulteraded Woman.  She is the standard by which all femininity is measured.  She is a wholesome and complete individual unto herself, and anyone who reminds me of her is more human in my eyes by association.
          Since I cannot explain this character, and since she has not appeared in any movie, Molly is therefore the most beautiful woman in any film, ever.  Is she more beautiful than my friend?  No, but she out of all the cinematic figures reminds me most of her, so throughout much of this exposition I will speak of Molly as if she was the standard.  So, then, I am more comfortable around women who remind me of Molly, similar to when a father has unique feelings for his son or daughter who reminds him of himself the most.  It’s difficult to explain, but it’s there.  What I can say is that women who remind me of her make me happy.
          It doesn’t necessarily have to be a feeling of attraction.  After all, I do not have a crush on Molly Jensen.  Neither do I have any romantic element with my best friend.  I never will.  She’s a constant in my life, and so is the nature of our friendship.  It’s everything a friendship can be, but it will not be more than that.  She has, to me, been the definition for friendship.  That’s the archetype she falls under, and it’s a unique relationship I wouldn’t give up for the world.
          A good marriage, though, should be with someone who is also a best friend.  It’s clearly a best friend in a different way, though.  There’s a slight difference, and it’s really difficult for me to imagine what it is.  However, I imagine my hypothetical wife as looking very similar to Molly.  How could I not?  Molly is the standard for beauty, and even if it is not a beauty I am inherently romantically interested in, I would still want a romance to include elements similar to what I see in my best friend and Molly.  I do not want her to be Molly, but I would love for us to have all the same qualities in our relationship plus one extra, that being intimacy.  This wouldn’t make my best friend obsolete, though.  I still want to live for my friends, and I want to be as real and as personal with them as possible, and I think that through friendship there is a form of support and happiness that can’t be found in romance.
          For now, I have neither such a friendship nor a romance.  I am unaware if I have met either person, yet, although there have been a couple of girls when I was a young boy who were good friends to me and I will always remember as the best friends I ever had.  Even after I find someone and decide to marry with her, Molly will most likely still be the most beautiful woman in fiction.  In fact, even if I marry an actress, I probably will not find her roles as attractive as Molly, because once I have experiences marriage, no fictional character could possibly be a standard for romantic interest, as I would already have a wife to set the standard for me.  It would be wrong to look at fictional characters and find them beautiful in a romantic way, even if they looked exactly like my wife, because they would not be my wife.  Molly, however, will forever be a reminder of my best friend, and a symbol of what femininity is beyond just attractive interest.  She represents beauty in not just a spouse, but in people of all different relations.  She can be my friend, my sister, my cousin, my mother, my daughter, my sister-in-law, my niece, and a symbol or what makes people everywhere special.  She is the innocent, blameless spirit in every human being, no matter how flawed.  She is, in essence, the image I attribute to the soul.



 
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To explain why Molly reminds me so much of my best friend, I’m going to take a look at how she’s presented.  For one, I find her pure.  People have complicated emotions, thoughts, and decisions, yet we are all bound by one very simple reality: we are all human.  We are all very much real people, and we are all special.  Something about her really brings that out.  She is depicted as plain and uncomplicated, straightforward in a way that I cannot be.
          Setting her role in the story aside for now, there’s something about how she’s presented.  She’s actually presented in two ways, the first being Demi Moore’s performance, and the second being Caissie Levy’s performance in the recent stage adaptation.   I always preferred the original, which is why I use Demi Moore’s pictures here.  Caissie’s never carried the same impression, even though the character she played had the exact same name and role in the story, because the character was presented differently in the 2012 play.  It was, to me, looking at a completely different character.  Caissie’s was just some character when Demi’s was, to me, not only a real person but also the subject of this ambitiously named entry.  I appreciate the need for a difference, but I’m not a fan of Demi and I still think she found the perfect interpretation of Molly.
          Part of the difference was how she was viewed as a woman.  One of my favorite things about Molly is that she’s very androgynous.  The movie forewent depicting her as a woman and really just made her one of two people feeling the pains of separation and loss.  Before the loss, she was still characterized as just a person.  She wasn’t “the girlfriend” or “the object of the man’s affection”, and she wasn’t some prize to be sought out for.  Yes, she technically was those things, but for me, that’s never where the emphasis was.  Perhaps this is my bias, because of how she reminds me so much of my friend, but the way that the narrative worked for me was that she was a dear friend of Sam Wheat who also happened to be the one person he would marry.  That second part wasn’t glamorized, save for in a moment of passion at the beginning of the movie.  Is that part really famous?  Oh yes, it definitely is.  During that part, though, she ceased to be Molly, or at least for me, and therefore doesn’t count.  It was the “make-out scene” that was sort of a separate story in its own right and my mind sort of created a different character at that moment.  I think that one of the reasons it never stood out to me that much was because when the characters decided to make out it wasn’t treated as a novelty, since in a romance movie kissing is usually a narrative point that emphasizes how people are coming together, whereas these two were already together.  So basically, there was no glamor.  Her presence was really an ordinary part of life, reminding me very much of how ordinary it is to be with siblings and cousins.
          Molly also dressed in what I call “glorious 90’s fashion”, tied with the 50’s for my favorite era of personal style.  Nostalgia certainly plays a piece in this, since it rings with the tone of a time that means everything to me, but she would so often dress so that there was really no stylistic difference between her and the men.  Everyone dressed pretty similar, save for when Sam and Carl were either shirtless or in business clothes.  Otherwise, she was dressed essentially how any man or boy would dress on a casual occasion, or at least in terms of the 90’s, and it didn’t stand out, because her presentation was fairly similar to woman in the 90’s as well.  I always thought this was cool, because even as an adult, I haven’t strayed far from my boyhood prejudice that girls were stupid when they were “girly”.  Tomboys and androgynous girls were the coolest.  They were people I could hand out with and take seriously.
          My attitude now is less childish, but the end result is still pretty similar.  I have no accusations of girl's fashion of being stupid, since I have, after all, come to appreciate cultural norms and complex historic ideas of beauty.  Yet, wearing dresses is like putting makeup on, and I ultimately find makeup ridiculous and prefer to see people as they really are.  So, too, do I find other items of feminine fashion that supposedly emphasize femininity a distraction that makes people into cartoons instead of flesh and blood.  The way I have developed, it really comes naturally with androgynous, down-to-earth fashion.  Even dressing up like a nerd, with a full set of bowties, suspenders, and pocket protectors, as awesome as I find that to be, is ultimately only adopting a shallow label and identifying with it.  I have a whole rant about people who identify with labels.  Meanwhile, I'm always curious to see how beautiful someone is when they wear completely unromantic clothes, and forgo decoration or any gilding to their sexuality.  In other words, I’m curious to see how a person’s beauty can show through then they are at their ugliest.
          Finally, Molly’s face is crowned by the single most awesome haircut known to man.  And woman.  My best friend has this haircut, and it was the most obvious similarity that Molly had with her.  Obviously, it’s not a hairstyle that people see much of, except in the 90’s, it was everywhere, particularly with boys.  Due to various media I was exposed to, it was the haircut of the ultimate underdog, the kid I related to.  It was the hair of the hair of Kevin from Home Alone, and it was the hair of Harry Potter, among many other examples.  I always wanted a bowl cut, but unfortunately, I didn’t really have the face for it, so my hair looks more like the young John Conner’s, and even that was pretty similar to a bowl cut.
          The point I’m trying to make here is that my imaginary friend is a strong reminder of my early childhood, and by extension life in the 90’s.  Even though she became my friend after the 90’s – we befriended each other when my parents were going through with their divorce – it’s just another association I make.  She’s always had a bowl cut just like the one Molly had, and Molly has the best variation of the bowl cut ever.
          Short enough that it’s easy to take care of, but long enough to protect against sunburn in the summer and keep the head warm during winter, this hair is perfect in every way, unless you’re a marine.  I say that the haircut is pretty useful, so on a practical side it gets a plus.
          This fondness comes from a deeper philosophy I always had.  When Caissie Levy played Molly, she had long hair, and it changed my way of perceiving the character almost immediately.  It wasn’t just because she didn’t look like my best friend.  I said I liked Demi’s presentation because it was plain and uncomplicated, and part of that was because of the hair.  On one hand, it made her a product of the times, but on the other hand, my perception of her as a woman wasn’t based on superficial things.  In the great “nature vs. Nurture Debate” in psychology, I never saw long hair and fashion as an inherently feminine trait.  I never liked contrived gender differences and preferred a world where gender was never an issue of identity.  It always made sense to eliminate gender differences that were mere presumptions and stop seeing people as so different, and especially never to treat them as an image created by society.  A lot of the way femininity is characterized by culture in both the West and the East through images that have become so fundamental in our assumptions about the difference between the sexes that it transcends words.  “Femininity” is constantly misused even by those who try to avoid products of cultural nurturing, and even I am not immune.
          So between short hair and long hair, I see short hair as more “feminine”, so to speak.  It’s actually not even that.  I just see it as more human.  Long hair is weird, and I honestly do not understand how it’s feminine other than by association.  To me, it always made people look like aliens or Tolkien’s elves.  Yes, that basically means that a ton of people are aliens, but I’m not backing down from that statement.  It honestly looks like a goofy alien thing.  In my science-fiction world, short hair is for humans, and when I can see someone who looks more human, then they are plainer, normal, and at the end of the day, just people.
          Long hair, to me, has always been associated with sexuality when not associated with aliens and elves.  Enter Tarzan.  He’s a man, and those long locks make him look manly.  He has a wild side to him, and those locks – those locks – just enhance his sexiness.  When I open up book with advertisements for tuxedoes, the man who stands out is the one with shoulder-length hair and some stubble, because he’s probably some hunk of a surfer or some other crazy athlete.  Either way, there’s a woman in the background who apparently thinks of him as a god.  As nice as that is, I really don’t want to be defined by my sexuality.  Remember, I always related with the underdogs and the simple, plain boys in children’s stories, from Harry Potter to Luke Skywalker.  The long hair increases sexuality, and I have nothing against people who go with it, but it’s weird that half of the population is basically expected to be more sexual than the other half.  That doesn’t seem right.  It’s sexy, but not beautiful.
          To understand how I see these things, look at how my brain operates and deals with data.  I like to compartmentalize everything.  Aesthetically, it separates the head and neck region, and the neck from the shoulders and the rest of the torso.  There is an upward “narrative” in the aesthetics, where everything comes together to place clear emphasis on the face and then on the eyes, and in my science-fiction world it means someone is a human and not an alien and that I therefore an not alone in this universe.  Otherwise, long hair is weird, like some sort of cosmic hiccup.  It clouds the boundaries between the compartmentalized regions, and it has a downward narrative that combines the cranium with the sizes of the face, the neck, and the shoulders, perhaps even the chest and lower back, depending on how long the hair is and how it is arranged.
          The sad thing, since long hair is so uncommon among women, I often find myself interested in them, whether on a romantic or on a friendship level, not because of how normal the hair should be but purely because it is different, and it becomes one of those quirks that I get interested in like girls who dress like real nerds.  I have a giant rant about nerds, and it’s very similar to this one.  I don’t like gaining interest in someone because of superficial things.  Chances are, if someone has a different style that goes against the norm, it’s probably because they’re trying to be different instead of being their natural selves.  That’s why Molly’s different, because I think she is just being herself wasn’t being influenced by her perception of what other women were like.  I think that her presentation was plain and simple because she was plain and simple, and that’s ultimately what comes first.




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There was a moment when Sam was restless, and she asked him what was wrong.  "It seems like whenever something good happens in my life I'm just afraid I'm going to lose it."
          And I am hit with strong, strong memories of good things in life that I have lost.  The way Sam phrased that concern, the fear of loss is associated with her.  Really, that's what she was to him.  She wasn't a girlfriend or a focus of infatuation.  She was something good in his life.  That spoke to me on one the deepest, most fundamental levels.  This is one of the reasons the character sticks with me, because of what she represents.  She represents meaning in relationships, and good relationships, the ones I want to last.
          Sam's concerns at this point are ones that I relate to in every sense.  There are people who I would have liked to call family, but they slipped into memory.  They became nothing more than another neuron connection within my brain.  There are some people I can never return to no matter how hard I try, because I can't go back again when the person who ought to have had a significant place in my life is now on the opposite side of the grave.  In light of those, I always regreted not loving those people enough, and I always wondered about just how much love I was withholding from all the other people I knew who were still alive.  There was the first friendship I ever had, and I always regreted taking it for granted, for now it is but a memory, and only a hazy one at that, nothing but a glorified neuron connection.  There are high school friendships, middle school friendships, and elementary school bonds that I have all had once upon a time, but now are as a fairy tale.
          I can't stress enough how much I wish for good things in my life to come and stay for good.  I want good things in my life so much.  This transcends a desire for romance, a desire for marriage.  I just want commitments, and I want some things to be permanent in my life that connect it to some ultimate narrative.
          There are many things about Molly that remind me of good things in my life that I have lost.  The good things in particular that come to mind are the biggest ones in my nostalgia arsenal, the phantoms from my past that I have never quite got over.  When I die and go to heaven, I have my equivalents to Fantine and the Biship of Digne that I hope to greet me as I pass through the light.
          I have a dream where I can be honest.  It is more than just speaking truth and being open.  It is a desire to be understood without fear, to be myself and share myself with friends who accept me as I am, and see me within the context of my entire life story.  I want to be known and loved not just for who I am now as an adult, but for everything I was leading up to this point, for how I became an adult.  I want to understand the life stories of my friends just as much, so as to btter understand why they are true and real to me.  In the same way that our mothers, to some extent, will always see us as children, I wish to have family who I feel I have known for my entire life.  I want to see them in terms of their origins, to understand how the adults I know are really just stages in the development of a baby born years ago.  In honesty, I want there to be truth in my life and in the friendships I have.  I want to be my true self - all of it - encompassing everything I have been and everything I ever will be.
          Therefore, I am happy for Sam.  I am so, so happy for Sam.  He doesn't have a girlfriend, but rather he he has been blessed with "something good".  Seeing their relationship, I get a glimmer of a vision of what sort of ultimate peace it is my innate disposition to want more than anything else.  I want friendship, in particular the friendship that I had as a child that had a certain extra meaning, exactly because there was no grand philosophy to define what it was.  Perhaps as a child we had things right.  I want to be like a child again, and I want my life to be that simple.  Work can be as complex as ever, and emotions can have their twists, but why shouldn't good things be plain?
          They are, after all, an ultimate end.
          How ironic it is that Sam is the one who leaves, that he is the "something good" and she is the one who suffers the pain of loss.


 

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Even though she was a good thing, and she was presented in just the perfect manner that I saw her as an archetypal representation of such, the Sam's musings were ironic.  He didn't lose her.  She lost him.  He was a good thing in her life.
          Thus, the story of the film is twofold.  At the onset, it may appear as a story about Sam and his struggle to help Molly from beyond death.  Yet, at the same time, it's also about Molly coping with a loss and learning to believe.  She is equally the story's main character.  She is, after all, the one who is living.  She's the one with story left to tell, and that's precious enough that it's worth saving.
          There are moments in Ghost where Molly takes control of the narrative.  It precedes the film, actually, because the trailer's tagline was "Do you believe in GHOST", phrased as a question and therefore is a theme that centers around someone's ability to answer it.  Molly's the one who has to respond to that question.  Therefore, it is Molly's job to take on much of the narrative, and there are points where the story is uniquely hers.
          Certainly, the story could be completely dedicated to how Sam uses his superpowers to save the day.  That is an interesting plot point, but it ignores the very significant reality of the film.  He's dead.  Molly attended his funeral.  As traumatizing as it would be to witness your own funeral and know it was for real, imagine, for a moment, just how much more agonizing it would be to be the person standing above the ground who loved the man in the coffin dearly, dealing with the fact that he died and is never coming back.
          The fact is, Sam was something good in Molly's life as well, and he was ripped away from her.  he may have longed for her touch and the ability to meet her eyes again, but he didn't suffer her complete absence.  She went through the stages of grief I know well.  There's the shock, and then the numbness, and the feeling that life is never going to be the same.  There's the burden of loss.  I went from seeing her as a desirable archetype, a good thing, to relating with her.  Suddenly, she felt the same pains I do, and it was completely real and true to life.  I was engaged with her subtle journey through those troublesome emotions.  The moment where she rolls a jar with an Indian-head penny Sam gave her off a staircase is real and more magical than any demonstration of ghost powers on the behalf of Sam.  I live for the one-way conversation between her and Sam where she talks to the air as if he can hear her, not knowing he actually can.
          The pain, the grief, the regret.  That's all real.  She's an authentic person.  While it's something I relate to, it's uniquely her story.  Yes, I see elements of myself in her, but she's unmistakably the Other.  I can sympathize, but never truly feel her pain, yet I know it's there.  And I marvel, and think to myself, at how real this person is.  She shares so many elements of my humanity, and yet they are not a product of my perceptions.  They are not created by my ability to understand her.  They exists completely independent of myself, separated by a wall I will never be able to see past, and yet her humanity burns on, in spite of it never being able to be seen.  She is as real as me without being me, and the more I think about that, the more I get to realizing that that's some kind of miracle.
          See, we are all like Molly and Sam.  One person is not another, and therefore can never truly "know" them.  We live our entire lives on two different sides of a wall, never really seeing each other.  Yet, there are signs of the other's existence.  Through our senses, we can detect each other's corporal existence, and reason comes to dictate that since cogito ergo sum, the flesh of other bodies which seem to exhibit rational behavior must also be self-aware and like us.
          To think, the sanctuary of our minds is an entire reality.  Reality is so big that it is everything.  Then the paradox, that everything exists not only once, but twice, because someone else has their own reality!  Not only that, but it happens seven billion times, all over the globe.  It is beyond comprehension, and yet it is true.  Therefore, if reality is everything, than each person is everything, and life is sacred.  I can be comfortable in this vast world of my mind, but there is a surreal awe about discovering another person and realizing "You too?  I thought I was the only one!"  The universe of my mind is a bubble of non-Euclidean space, never to touch with another cognitive universe, and yet somehow knowing that, in theory, another universe exists, it changes everything.
          Have we ever stopped to think just how loving we ought to be to each other, and just how sacred life is?  I sometimes do, and the resulting analogies blow me away.  I stop in awe, and I chuckle at how ignorant I am most of the time.  I am dimly aware that other people have thoughts and feelings independent of myself, but when it dawns me that they do, how extraordinary it is!  How far beyond the imagination it is to fathom the seven billion stories that unfold on this planet every day.  Then I get to thinking how small I am, and how important everyone else is.  It is like everyone else is another "me", and yet they are not me.  Aristotle thought otherwise, since he thought that all souls were the same substance and merely inhabited bodies with different nurture, but for that to be true, then all realities really only one, like a well-lesioned brain keeping secrets from itself, supporting multiple different consciousnesses all at once to fulfill a complex function.  I don't see the universe that way, and it would be a shame to make everything the same reality.  It's much grander to rejoice in the hyperdimensional paradox that even everything isn't everything.  Everyone is "just like me" (except in a different body), while at the same time, they are distinctly and wholly not me!
          When I put up my willing suspension of disbelief, I see Molly in this way, and therefore she becomes of infinite importance.  I understand Sam's desire to spare her from his fate.  It isn't just romance, but altruism, the ultimate love.  When all the elements of her presentation remind me of an independent reality, of which I am normally only dimly aware, it is impossible not to love her.
          She is someone I can fall in love with.  She isn't a character, but a person.  She isn't a science fiction concept or some pretty idea.  All the fictional characters ever are only a reflection of abstract ideas, but a person isn't an abstract idea.  A person isn't something that you find in a creative story, where an avatar for the plot is created by putting together personality traits and some relateable emotions.  People are real.  Molly, even though she's fictional, reminds me of that.  In spite of all the fantasies out there, she's the person from everyday life I look at and see myself falling in love with over time.  She's that ordinary - yet extraordinary - person who can become everything.  That's what she means to me.
          Perhaps this is another fantasy, but there's always the hope that I will meet someone who consistently reminds me as Molly does every day just how unreal she is to me, for indeed another person's reality can never be my own.  To suggest that another person is real is to create an illusion of her in your mind.  Love isn't necessarily about feeling someone's presence.  She had sort of shortcoming when Sam died when she talked to the air, pretending he was beside her and not knowing he actually was.  It was a talk with herself more than anything, and it reminds me of my own shortcomings and how C.S. Lewis crystallized my awareness of this flaw in human nature in his book A Grief Observed.  We will create a figment of our imaginations out of our loved ones after they have passed away, yet it is not them.  A person ceases to love another when they fall in love with their memory, not the person herself.  The truth is, we do not live on in memory, and that is a lie as old as time.  True life exists in spite of others' notions, not because of it.  Hence, I fall in love with the idea of a person, my own invention.  Molly did, too.
          Or was it that she had some sort of faith?  In spite of not perceiving him to be there, nor having any reason to believe that he was, what if there was some innate part of her that understood that his presence was about?  Sensing his presence, and yet having no way of knowing for sure, she speaks out to him, saying what she thinks he should hear?  At that point she could never know his response, but it wasn't the point.  He wasn't real to her because he was dead, but really, he was never real to her in the first place.  Any belief otherwise would have been a mirage within her own mind, the only thing real to her.  The point was that she had the faith to alter his reality in spite of it being to her an impenetrable void of nonexistence.


 

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Ghost isn't a love story, nor is it a comedy or a tragedy.  The best label I can give is a "drama", but for me it is what it is.  There's no label for it, but I find it a bit profound that it "is" anything.  It has an identity, a soul to it.  Real people got together to play fictional roles, and real people got together to direct, compose, and take photo shoots together.
          At different times, it can be different things.  Many will call it a romance, but beyond that, it's a story about friendship.  Sam and Molly were many things, but above all they were good things - for each other.  They were best friends, and being romantic partners didn't really change anything in that dynamic.  It was simple love, a benevolent care for each other, just as a child I presumed that it should be.  When Molly's life was at risk, Sam did all he could to save her not because she would have been his wife, but because she was a loved one, a friend, a part of his family and an integral piece of his life while he had it.    He had no destiny, and he had nothing to gain from helping her, not even emotional fulfillment   He was offered to go straight to Heaven when he died, which in theory would be the ultimate emotional fulfillment, but he turned it down, because he wanted for a reality greater than himself.  He wanted for the one person who mattered in his life to have life of her own, and that always resonated with me.
          It was a bittersweet ending, but one of my favorite movie endings of all time.  The music was beautiful, the unique visual feel showcased my favorite example of 90's lighting, the blocking could not have been better, and Demi Moore knew how to cry.  It was also romantic.  Very romantic.
          Which leaves me with some interesting thoughts about Molly, actually, and I return to the similar phantoms of my best friend and my wife.  What is Molly to me?  I find Ghost to be one of my favorite romances of all time, but I don't imagine myself in Sam's role.  Nor do I imagine being there to be the man who takes his place, presuming there is one.  Actually, I don't assume anything after the ending.  That's why it's a favorite: it's such a definitive end, like the end of time itself, where the story completely and entirely resolves every concern I might have ever had by the time the screen dims out.
          All I really know is that I love Molly, or at least as much as I can love a fictional character.  It's some kind of wonderful, although whatever kind it is I am not entirely sure.  It could be platonic, maybe romantic, but at the end of the day, good is good.  I wish to live well with the people in my life, and discover the meaning behind the relationships I have.  She's a constant reminder of that dazzling extra reality I'm looking for.
          She isn't as real as a real person, but it's about what she represents, and what beauty truly means.  People keep on trying to put conditions on what it is, but in actuality there's no such thing as a person who is any more beautiful than the other.  Everyone is ultimately and equally human.  I think of the real people that I meet in my everyday life, especially those who possess qualities that resonate me with elements of familiarity that betray their humanity, and I realize that they have souls equal in their cry of "I am!"
          To be is to be beautiful.


 

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2nd Most Beautiful Female Character

Posted by Jean Valjean , in Superman, Hierarchies Dec 20 2012 · 1,452 views
Smallville

Chloe Sullivan
 
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:kaukau: This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me.  I absolutely love this character.  She's the absolute of beauty on television, with her only competition being Allison Mack (who, by the way, has an awesome name).  There's so much to love about her that I don't know where to start, so I might as well just chronicle my entire experience with the character.
 
The first I saw of her was in Season 2 of Smallville and in a couple of early Season 3 episodes, back when those were airing.  These were the first bits I ever saw of the show.  I know for sure, from the glimpses that I saw, that the one episode was of Clark getting sick, which I later found out turned out to be quite a cool story for Chloe.  Anyway, asides from seeing the chemistry with the characters and overall feel of the storytelling, which intrigued me and made me want to give Superman a chance, since suddenly the character of Clark Kent became something on an enigma and the complexities of real-life relationships made the character far more interesting, I also saw Chloe and loved what I saw.  I wasn't so into her back then, but I remember asking if she was Lois Lane, because I thought that the depiction and the actress were both perfect.  A cousin of mine corrected me and said it was someone else, but I still thought the depiction would have been perfect for Clark's true love.  She had the sharpness going for her, that sense that she could truly be a friend, and the overall attractiveness thing going for her, which would be enough to drive Clark crazy if he had his eyes open.
 
Then I got the first two seasons a couple of Christmases ago, knowing that I would begin to like Clark Kent, but then suddenly rediscovering Chloe.  She came on the screen and, I kid you not, almost every time I would shout "CHLOOOOOOOOOEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"
 
And then I'd shout "CHLOECHLOECHLOECHLOECHLOE!"
 
First, her hair was awesome.  Look at that flippy flipster of flippiness!  It's so blond and...flippy!  And it was short and pixie-like and so lively, and so was her face.  Even when she had a bandage on her head, her face was absolutely beautiful.  I loved her forehead, her eyebrows (with their amazing range of expression), her eyes, her nose, her cheeks, her lips, her chin.  Basically, every single feature of hers is perfect and has this amazing sharpness and clarity to it.  Then she could make these amazing faces, like the one above, that had this remarkable ability to just warm the heart.
 

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She was a great friend for Clark, too, and I was shipping a romance between them.  She seemed more like what Lana should have been, canon-wise.  And it all just worked.  Even though there was uncertainty about how she would be different than Lois Lane, she managed to pull it off, and she managed to be a fun character that I loved to follow over the course of the first season, being the person who both saved Clark's butt multiple times by being the ultimate information source, being the one who was always getting into trouble, and being the one who was always on the verge of discovering Clark's secret whether by digging up information or because of the times when he needed to save her.  The strained dynamic between them became an entertaining fixture during Clark's high school years, but for the first season it was also fun to just revel in the shared innocence of the characters, who at the time were both incredibly comfortable and safe with each other.  The moments when Chloe got closer to Clark, meanwhile...Well, I totally pretended I was in Clark's shoes.  After all, my real-life nickname became Superman.  Then Clark asked her out to the prom (what freshman were doing at the prom, I don't know, and then in the fourth season it was treated as if it was a senior-only thing), I was like "YES!" and returned to my usual chanting of Chloe's name.
 
The second season was a sort of the same.  There were obvious changes, and they were dramatic and cool, and I liked them.  The innocence of the first season was slipping away, but not entirely gone.  She was discovering that there were things she didn't know about Clark, that there were things that she was keeping from her, and her curiosity got the better hand.  Then, meanwhile, her ability to sniff up information became so insanely good that it attracted the attention of the new series regular Lionel Luthor (and don't get me started on how awesome he was over the course of the series, especially when he could contrast against a cast that was almost completely innocent).  While Lex was still a good guy and she was still friends with him, her life became just a bit darker as Lionel made things tough for her, and she had to stand her own against intimidating forces.  Ultimately, it resulted in this very dramatic moment where she found out that Lana had snagged Clark behind her back, and that betrayal led her to seemingly confirm a deal with Lionel Luthor.  Chloe on the dark side?  Awesome.
 
My favorite moment in the second season was when she read a letter to Clark while he was unconscious on the couch, taken down by a Kryptonite infection.  She was really concerned for him, and to "eliminate embarrassing eye contact", she read the letter out loud in what turned out to be one of my favorite moments in the show:
 
 

I want to let you in on a little secret, Clark. I'm not who you think I am. In fact, my disguise is so thin, I'm surprised you haven't seen right through me. I'm the girl of your dreams masquerading as your best friend. Sometimes I want to rip off this façade like I did at the Spring Formal, but I can't because you'll get scared and you'll run away again. So I decided that it's better to live with the lie than expose my true feelings. My dad told me there are two types of girls: the ones you grow out of, and the ones you grow into. I really hope I'm the latter. I may not be the one you love today, but I'll let you go for now, hoping one day you'll fly back to me. Because I think you're worth the wait.

 
Some of the poetic elegance that went into this were genius upon the part of the writers, with particular her reference to her this disguise.  At the same time, this moment reminds me of Darlene Conner, where she shares her deepest feelings, read from a sheet of paper in an earlier season, that clearly establishes where her heart is, and what sort of inner turmoil she was going through.  At that point, I stopped just having a crush on Chloe and started genuinely caring for her as a human being.  I wanted Clark to love her back because I wanted to see her happy so much, because I wanted to see that radiant smile of hers.
 

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Beautiful, competent, lovable, brief girlfriend of Superman, adversary of Lex Luthor's daddy, brief convert to the dark side, may I repeat "beautiful"?  I swear, this is what Mary Sue writers wish they could pull off before they end up failing miserably.  It's really strange, because they even treat her as if she's the lesser of two beauties when compared to Lana Lang, an obvious fallacy (down with the Lana Lang), but they somehow manage to even pull that off without even being remotely Mary Sue-ish.  I suppose it helps that she does attract guys from time to time, albeit them all being mutants who later turn out to be psychos (which is almost comedic once she recognizes jut how absurdly bad her luck is), and that Clark apparently does find her attractive, but has sort of the same feelings toward her as Josephine March had for Laurie Lawrence.
 
The third season was perhaps the darkest in the series, surprisingly so.  Lex went insane.  Lionel played both God and Satan with the lives of others.  Pete was forced to leave.  Many bad things happened, and Clark carried out an ongoing struggle with his Kryptonian father and his dawning comprehension of his greater destiny.  Amid all this stood Chloe, not quite as important as Lana, Lex, and Clark, but still a fixture in the show.  By this time, her innocence had been lost.  She had made a deal with Lionel, that great Satan of the show, and was now struggling for her soul.  Meanwhile, her sense of betrayal from Clark became greater and greater, and in the episode where she gained the power to force anyone to tell the truth, except for Clark, the two things she did were to get an incriminating testimony from Lionel and chase after Clark's parents to get the truth about him.  "Do you know what it's like being friends with someone who lies to you every day?" she said over the phone.  The desire seemed to real, so uncontrived.
 
To complete the dark note, she seemingly died at the end of the third season when her struggle with Lionel Luthor finally came to a close.  Had I been with the show at the time, that would have been very upsetting, but I was quite a few seasons behind when I started and knew she stuck around to the very end, so I just appreciated it for the dramatic ending it was, though I can only imagine how dramatic it must have been to have actually been there when it aired for the first time. 


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I might mention right here, by the way, that one of the great things about Smallville were all the close-ups.  Granted, if I was a director my vision would be a bit different, as I tend to prefer shots that depict entire scenes, but I wasn't complaining when certain characters got their moment right up next to the lens, most of all Chloe.  It makes it so easy to find great pictures of her on Google.
 

In the fourth season, everything freshened up.  It took on the light heart and the innocence of the first season while dropping the consistency of the "monster of the week" formula in favor of a few larger plots that centered around a continuing, larger conflict that brought Clark closer and closer to his destiny.  This would have almost been an ideal season to end the series on, if not for a few loose ends.  Turns out the fourth season wasn't even close, but boy, it's still perhaps my favorite season.
 
The reason for that is pretty simple.  Season one was Whitney season.  Season two was Clark Season.  Season three was Lex Season.  Season four was Chloe season.  This was the season where her character had some of her best moments, where so many resolutions and great changes came her way, and how they made he to grow was extraordinary.  Chloe discovered Clark's secret halfway throughout.  The producers had been playing chicken with this development for quite some time, and I had become so accustomed to any discovery of Clark's secret to being fixed by amnesia, but then they finally did it.  Of course, Allison Mack captured the mannerisms for the character perfectly and delivered her sense of surprise and her struggle to come to terms with the revelation in the most amazing way, with the help of amazing writers.  Watching Chloe secretly help Clark and continually grow in her faith of him was amazing, and I loved her even more for it.  Once all of that uncertainty was gone, once she understood Clark and the faith was returned, that innocence of the first season came back in full.  She that amazing friend once more.  And then, defying all expectations, she did not expose him to the world.  Amazing person, Chloe.  God bless you.
 
Lana was put on the backburner as Clark began to just enjoy his senior year with his friends and the people who mattered.  Lois and Chloe were great friends (even though he found Lois annoying), and angst was set aside.  it was a season to rejoice in Clark's coming of age and a rediscovery of the simple friendships that hold us together, the things that once we reach the end of the line for we realize we don't ever want to truly say goodbye to.
 
It was also really cool that she also happened to still have feelings for Clark and there was a humorous episode dedicated to her drinking a love potion that enhanced preexisting feelings.  And it also hurt like a thousand bee stings during that episode at the beginning that ended with the song "So Much For My Happy Ending" when she was standing next to Lois and Clark having a good time during high school events.  I felt so sorry for her.
 
But on the other hand, Lois was likewise amazing.
 
Then one of the last episodes was dedicated to a relatable theme about saying goodbye to high school.  I watched it when my senior year was almost over.  It was indeed a very bittersweet ending.  Looking back, although the episode itself doesn't make me cry, once I begin thinking about those things my nostalgia forces tears on me as the abstractions of my mind get conflicted.  I'm glad to find a character who feels the same way.
 
The ending of the fourth season was by far the best of the season finales.  Meteor showers.  Again!  Chloe kept her head pretty cool, and it looked like Clark was about to truly discover his destiny.  Chloe helped defend his secret from a Lex who was beginning to fall down the wrong path, and then in the Fortress of Solitude she walked up to Clark and explicitly asked him to use her powers to save her.  It was in the moment pictured below, an there was really no better way of doing it.  Especially since Clark was looking at clips from the Richard Donner film for his education.  This was a really great way of paying tribute to the original Superman movie while taking him in a new direction.  Really, really good.
 
Meanwhile, I was watching this episode during my senior trip, and at around midnight you could hear my jumping up and down during this scene and shouting "CHLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!"
 
And I repeated that one word several times.  Man, was I ever on a high that night.  Chloe Sullivan in one glorifying moment, Clark meeting his father's presence in the fortress for the first time, the creation of the fortress, the music, everything.  That was seriously cool stuff.
 

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Great memories.  They're partially brought on by nostalgia, partially brought on because they were simply great.  There's something about childhood that I will never be able to reclaim, but at least I can still keep on loving this character.  Yeah, she was pretty cool in the later seasons as well, but during the high school years that I watched when I also was in high school, there was truly nothing like it.
 
So what have we learned?  Well, the power of friendship is one.  In spite of the mega-crush I had on Chloe Sullivan, I also saw the character as someone who was simply a great friend, and I think any relationship with he would have to first and foremost be a relationship built on friendship.  Sorry, Jimmy Olson who turned out to be an expy of himself.  One can also see how previous characters mentioned can be brought into the Mackster's best role ever.  She's quirky like Juno, but real.  Asides from being a non-powered comic-book character, she shares with Selina Kyle a plain, straightforward style of femininity.  Like Molly Mahoney, she's a radiant example of innocence in spite of unlikely circumstances.  Like Darlene, there was that letter and those moment where she discovered herself as she got further into high school.  Like Becky, she's competent and has pretty good social skills, and has pretty similar hair, I might add, except better.  Like Saavik, she has sharp features and would look awesome as a Vulcan, while having the intellect and initiative to be a member of Star Fleet.  She even had an obvious Eponine vibe going for her, although her final story was fortunately nowhere near as sad.  In so many ways, she's this ultimate ideal for everything I can possibly imagine as attractive.
 
I also liked that she wasn't defined by her gender.  Yes, she was obviously feminine, and he crush on Clark was a defining trait of hers during her childhood, and she also has a great sense of fashion in every single way, all of which you could attribute to her femininity, but what defined her was that she was a determined reporter.  She had passion.  She had strong principles.  She was defined by her strengths and her weaknesses and how she dealt with them.

The cool thing about her was that she was the everyman, or everyperson if we would rather go by more gender-neutral phrasing.  She was the person who's story we didn't know.  She was the wild card.  She was the girl whose fate could be ended at any moment, that could go in any direction, but meanwhile, that was good because it made me enjoy every moment I had with her without taking her for granted.  During my last two years of high school, as I traveled through the high school seasons of Smallville, she came to represent something for that time in my life, the joy of my youth, and a face in which I could fall in love with so that I couldn't hurt myself again with the drama of real-life romances.
 
Wait, though, what of Miss Lois Lane?  I ambiguously refer to whoever I will ultimately marry as Lois Lane, so surely I see the merit to that character.  Indeed, as the seasons progressed, Lois had her great moments, and though Chloe ousted Lois during her first unofficial season, that set up the character in the most lovable way.  She's so lovably...flawed.  And in the later seasons, she became my reason for watching.  Chloe was still awesome, but Lois became even more awesome.  It still would have been cool if my first impression of Smallville back in the day was true, though, and Chloe was really a high school Lois.  It would have been the most perfect of hybrids.  As she stands, Erica Durance's twist on a role first embodied by Margot Kidder was amazing, and there is absolutely no way that Amy Adams is going to beat either of those two.
 
Tune in for next time for my #1 pick, someone who for as long as I can remember has remained without even the slightest trace of competition until Chloe came along and nabbed a close second place.  Could it be Lois?  Could it be some dark horse candidate?  Could it be an obvious selection that we all know and love?  Go ahead and guess, because like a really good season finale (I got so pumped up writing about that), I feel I've really completed a fun arc after this.
 

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Me

Username: Jean Valjean
Real name: People literally don't have names in my family
Age: 24
Gender: Male
Heritage: Half Dutch, Quarter Hungarian, Eighth Swedish, Sixteenth German and Irish
Physical description: Looks like the eleventh Doctor
Favorite food: Chicken, turkey, and beef.
Least favorite food: Vegetables of any kind
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Favorite singer: Billy Joel
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Favorite athlete: Michael Phelps
Lucky Number: 53
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Language: Iowegian

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